Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Scientists Fix Bugs In Our Understanding Of Evolution

Date:
June 24, 2008
Source:
European Molecular Biology Laboratory
Summary:
What makes a human different from a chimp? Researchers have come one important step closer to answering such evolutionary questions correctly. In the current issue of Science they uncover systematic errors in existing methods that compare genetic sequences of different species to learn about their evolutionary relationships. They present a new computational tool that provides accurate insights into the evolution of DNA and protein sequences.

Sequence alignment according to the new, phylogeny-aware method.
Credit: Nick Goldman, EMBL-EBI

What makes a human different from a chimp? Researchers from the European Molecular Biology Laboratory's European Bioinformatics Institute [EMBL-EBI] have come one important step closer to answering such evolutionary questions correctly. In the current issue of Science they uncover systematic errors in existing methods that compare genetic sequences of different species to learn about their evolutionary relationships.

They present a new computational tool that avoids these errors and provides accurate insights into the evolution of DNA and protein sequences. The results challenge our understanding of how evolution happens and suggest that sequence turnover is much more common than assumed.

"Evolution is happening so slowly that we cannot study it by simply watching it. That's why we learn about the relationships between species and the course and mechanism of evolution by comparing genetic sequences," says Nick Goldman, group leader at EMBL-EBI.

The four letter code that constitutes the DNA of all living things changes over time; for example individual or several letters can be copied incorrectly [substitution], lost [deletion] or gained [insertion]. Such changes can lead to functional and structural changes in genes and proteins and ultimately to the formation of new species. Reconstructing the history of these mutation events reveals the course of evolution.

A comparison of multiple sequences starts with their alignment. Characters in different sequences that share common ancestry are matched and gains and losses of characters are marked as gaps. Since this procedure is computationally heavy, multiple alignments are often built progressively from several pairwise alignments. It is impossible, however, to judge if a length difference between two sequences is a deletion in one or an insertion in the other sequence.

For correct alignment of multiple sequences, distinguishing between these two events is crucial. Existing methods, that fail to do that, lead to a flawed understanding of the course of evolution.

"Our new method gets around these errors by taking into account what we already know about evolutionary relationships," says Ari Löytynoja, who developed the tool in Goldman's lab. "Say we are comparing the DNA of human and chimp and can't tell if a deletion or an insertion happened. To solve this our tool automatically invokes information about the corresponding sequences in closely related species, such as gorilla or macaque. If they show the same gap as the chimp, this suggests an insertion in humans."

Findings achieved with the new technique suggest that insertions are much more common than assumed, while the frequency of deletions has been overestimated by existing methods. A likely reason for these systematic errors of other techniques is that they were originally developed for structural matching of protein sequences. The focus of molecular biology is shifting, however, and understanding functional changes in genomes requires specifically designed methods that consider sequences' histories. Such approaches will likely reveal further bugs in our understanding of evolution in future and might challenge the conventional picture of sequence evolution.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by European Molecular Biology Laboratory. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

European Molecular Biology Laboratory. "Scientists Fix Bugs In Our Understanding Of Evolution." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 24 June 2008. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/06/080619142102.htm>.
European Molecular Biology Laboratory. (2008, June 24). Scientists Fix Bugs In Our Understanding Of Evolution. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 1, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/06/080619142102.htm
European Molecular Biology Laboratory. "Scientists Fix Bugs In Our Understanding Of Evolution." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/06/080619142102.htm (accessed October 1, 2014).

Share This



More Plants & Animals News

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Attacking Superbugs

Attacking Superbugs

Ivanhoe (Oct. 1, 2014) — Two weapons hospitals can use to attack superbugs. Scientists in Ireland created a new gel resistant to superbugs, and a robot that can disinfect a room in minutes. Video provided by Ivanhoe
Powered by NewsLook.com
Cultural Learning In Wild Chimps Observed For The First Time

Cultural Learning In Wild Chimps Observed For The First Time

Newsy (Oct. 1, 2014) — Cultural transmission — the passing of knowledge from one animal to another — has been caught on camera with chimps teaching other chimps. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Earth Has Lost Half Its Vertebrate Wildlife Since 1970: WWF

Earth Has Lost Half Its Vertebrate Wildlife Since 1970: WWF

Newsy (Sep. 30, 2014) — A new study published by the World Wide Fund for Nature found that more than half of the world's wildlife population has declined since 1970. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Annual Dog Surfing Competition Draws California Crowds

Annual Dog Surfing Competition Draws California Crowds

AFP (Sep. 30, 2014) — The best canine surfers gathered for Huntington Beach's annual dog surfing competition, "Surf City, Surf Dog." Duration: 01:15 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories

 

Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins