60-Second Science

Protein Shape Data Confirms Life's Genealogy

Comparing the DNA sequences of similarly shaped proteins in various organisms produces a geneaology of all life on earth that matches those created from completely different data sets. Steve Mirsky reports.

Podcast Transcript: Biologists often attempt to construct a genealogy that shows the relationships of all life on earth.  One well-accepted effort compares the nucleic acid sequences that code for ribosomal RNA and a few proteins in many different organisms.  The result shows clear groupings.  The bacteria cluster together, the eukaryotes—that’s you and frogs and maple trees—all go together.  And archae, a distinct kind of single cell, go together.
A few years ago, researcher Song Yang decided to look at similarly shaped regions of proteins in various organisms.  Yang’s mentor, Russell Doolittle, discussed the work at an evolutionary biology conference on May 1st at Rockefeller University in New York City.  Yang compared the DNA sequences of the similarly shaped protein sections.  The resulting map of relationships almost completely matched the one made from different data sources.  Which is good confirmation that the genealogy of life on earth is indeed what researchers thought it was.

—Steve Mirsky 

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