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In the news: week of Dec. 8, 2014

Monday, December 15, 2014

College of Liberal Arts & Sciences in the media between Dec. 8 and Dec. 15, 2014

Scientists analyze DNA of birds to build new family tree, spur ideas on evolutionary history - U.S. News & World Report


More than 200 scientists from 20 countries have produced a new family tree for an extensive amount of bird species alive today. The tree was created by comparing DNA codes of 48 species, three of which had been decoded previously, so 45 codes were new.

Species in the project varied dramatically; from the bald eagle, the common cuckoo, two kinds of penguin to the downy woodpecker and the Anna's hummingbird. These species were chosen to represent branches that lead to most of the 10,000 living species.

With only 48 genomes completed so far, experts caution that the tree is not complete and further research could change current indications about the history of birds. Yet, "this is a monumental achievement ... a landmark," said Town Peterson, distinguished professor of ecology & evolutionary biology. "It's going to begin fleshing out a backbone for understanding the evolutionary history of birds."

The work provides the first compelling evidence for suspicions that many families of birds are much younger than scientists had thought, Peterson said.

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