New DNA Technology Is Shaking Up The Branches of The Evolutionary Tree

You could have felt cut off from your family if you don't look like your close relatives. When you were younger, you could have even believed that especially tumultuous fallouts were an indication that you were adopted.

As evidenced by our most recent research, family relationships are not always what they seem. The family trees of many plants and animals are being upended by new DNA technologies.

Because of some similarities in our bones and brains, primates—of which humans are a member—were originally believed to be close cousins of bats. However, DNA evidence now classifies humans with other animals like rodents (such as rats and mice) and rabbits. Surprisingly, it turns out that bats have more in common with cows, horses, and even rhinoceroses than it does with humans.

The evolutionary tree of life's branches could only be determined by studying the structure and outward manifestations of animals and plants during Darwin's time and throughout the majority of the 20th century. According to commonalities believed to have developed together, life forms were categorized.

About thirty years ago, researchers began creating "molecular trees" using DNA data. The initial trees constructed using DNA information frequently disagreed with the traditional ones.

It was originally believed that animals with no teeth, such as sloths and anteaters, armadillos, pangolins (scaly anteaters), and aardvarks, were in a group called edentates.

These characteristics separately developed in several branches of the mammal tree, according to molecular trees. It turns out that pangolins are more closely related to cats and dogs than aardvarks are to elephants.

Coming together

Darwin and his colleagues were aware of another significant line of evidence. Darwin observed that organisms with the most apparent shared origin were frequently found geographically close to one another. Another major signal that two species are linked is their geographic proximity; species that coexist in close proximity have a higher likelihood of having a common ancestor.

Our most recent publication cross-referenced geographic location, DNA information, and phenotype for a variety of animals and plants for the first time. For 48 groups of animals and plants, including bats, dogs, monkeys, lizards, and pine trees, we examined evolutionary trees based on outward characteristics or on molecular.

Compared to conventional evolution maps, evolutionary trees based on DNA data were two-thirds more likely to match the location of the species. To put it another way, older trees demonstrated how various species were connected based on appearance.

In contrast to species connected by DNA, our research revealed they were far less likely to coexist in close proximity.

It could seem as though evolution is nearly limitlessly coming up with fresh answers. However, it is less cunning than you may imagine.

Animals that have evolved to carry out comparable functions or live similarly to one another might appear quite similar to one another. Bony wings for flight are present or were present in birds, bats, and the extinct pterosaurs, although these animals' predecessors all had front legs for walking on the ground.

The color wheels and key indicate where members of each order are found geographically. The molecular tree has these colors grouped together better than the morphological tree, indicating closer agreement of the molecules to biogeography.

Because the physics of producing thrust and lift in air are always the same, similar wing forms and muscles developed in many taxa. The same can be said for eyes, which may have undergone 40 different evolutionary iterations in mammals and have only undergone a handful of fundamental "designs".

With a crystalline lens, iris, retina, and vision pigments, our eyes are identical to squid's eyes. Squid are not as closely connected to us as we are to snails, slugs, and clams. However, many of their molluscan ancestors have quite basic eyes.

On at least four separate continents and branches of the mammal family tree, moles evolved into blind, burrowing species. The African golden mole (more closely related to aardvarks), the Eurasian and North American talpid moles (loved of gardeners and more closely related to hedgehogs than these other "moles"), and the Australian marsupial pouched moles (more closely related to kangaroos) all evolved along a similar evolutionary path.

Evolution's roots

Evolutionary scientists typically relied solely on appearance before the development of affordable and effective genome sequencing technologies in the 21st century.

Darwin (1859) demonstrated the interconnectedness of all life on Earth in a single evolutionary tree, although he did nothing to depict the tree's branches. One of the first individuals to depict evolutionary trees that attempted to illustrate the relationships between significant groupings of living forms was the anatomist Ernst Haeckel (1834–1919).

Brilliant depictions of living things in Haeckel's drawings informed art and design throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. His family trees were almost totally based on the appearance and embryonic development of those species. Many of his theories on the links between species were accepted until recently.

There will be a lot more surprises as it becomes cheaper and simpler to gather and analyze huge amounts of molecular data.

Matthew Wills, Professor of Evolutionary Palaeobiology at the Milner Centre for Evolution, University of Bath.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.