Fossils key to fulfilling Darwin's 160-year-old prediction

Fossils key to fulfilling Darwin's 160-year-old prediction

A new study by researchers at the University of Salford has shown that fossils are likely to be key to fulfilling a prediction made by Charles Darwin more than 160 years ago.

In an 1857 letter to Thomas Huxley, Darwin wrote "The time will come I believe when we shall have very fairly true genealogical trees of each great kingdom of nature."

Since then, scientists have made enormous progress towards working out the evolutionary "Tree of Life", but a major problem is that analyses based on anatomical features often suggest quite different relationships than do analyses based on the genome.

The new study, published today (Dec 12, 2018) in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, may have found the solution to this problem.

Lead author Dr. Robin Beck, said: "For mammals, there are some quite major disagreements about how they are related to each other, depending on whether you use anatomical or genomic data. This has led some people to suggest that anatomy is fundamentally unreliable for working out the of mammals, and perhaps of other groups as well."

For example, indicates that rhinos are more closely related to hedgehogs than they are to elephants. The anatomical similarities between rhinos and elephants are the result of convergent evolution.

Beck and Baillie's study shows that new fossil discoveries might be able to bridge the large anatomical "gap" between rhinos and hedgehogs and so help correctly determine their evolutionary relationships."

To test this, Beck and his co-author, Ph.D. student Charles Baillie, invented a new method where they first predicted the of fossil ancestors that should have existed if the genome-based phylogeny is correct, and then investigated the effect of adding these predicted ancestors into anatomy-based analyses.

Beck added: "We were quite surprised to find that predicted ancestors led to the anatomical analyses matching the genomic phylogeny almost exactly. So, it doesn't look like there's anything inherently unreliable about anatomical data – in principle at least.

"It may just be a case of going out and finding enough fossils!"

The same technique can be applied to any group of organisms, to test whether anatomical data is likely to correctly resolve their evolutionary relationships.

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More information: Beck RMD, Baillie C. 2018. Improvements in the fossil record may largely resolve current conflicts between morphological and molecular estimates of mammal phylogeny. Proc. R. Soc. B. DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2018.1632
Citation: Fossils key to fulfilling Darwin's 160-year-old prediction (2018, December 12) retrieved 24 June 2019 from
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Dec 13, 2018
Leftists hate Darwinism because it proves inheritance and evolution create differences and pass on traits like intelligence.

Dec 13, 2018
Interesting. BTW, the DOI link is dead, but the paper is published: https://royalsoci...018.1632

"We tested this under a hypothetical 'best case scenario' by using ancestral state reconstruction (under both maximum parsimony and maximum likelihood) to infer the morphologies of fossil ancestors for all clades present in a recent comprehensive DNA sequence-based phylogeny of mammals, and then seeing what effect the subsequent inclusion of these predicted ancestors had on unconstrained phylogenetic analyses of morphological data. We found that this resulted in topologies that are highly congruent with the current consensus phylogeny, at least when the predicted ancestors are assumed to be well preserved and densely sampled. "

"Strikingly, for many analyses, inclusion of PAs [predicted ancestors] was sufficient to result in phylogenies that are generally congruent with the molecular consensus ..."

Dec 14, 2018
Oh yes. thorazine boy is proof that Darwin got evolution backward.
t_b is such an excellent specimen of the jukes & kallakack's effect of inbreeding in small. isolated religious cults.

Dec 14, 2018
@torbjorn, nice! And it's not paywalled.

Dec 14, 2018
Leftists hate Darwinism

Gee, I thought it was all the destroyatives who hate Darwin. They keep preaching religion and how jebus made everything and cosmology and evolutionary biology and geophysics are all wrong and we should teach the Babble about the super magic sky daddy by the drunken stone age sheep herders in school and stuff.

Silly me!

Dec 14, 2018
As for the article, knowing what to look for will help as the fossil record gets filled in. And if genetics can help with this, instead of a tension between genetics and fossils, we'll get a synergy between them.

Dec 14, 2018
LOL at "thorazine boi"

Dec 15, 2018
Rhino's & Hedgehogs... Really?!?

& people are having difficulty accepting my Theory of Stupid Design?

What I find interesting about the results so far for this research? That the biggley animal is a herbivore grazer.
While the littlebitty critters are omnivorous nocturnal predators.

Well, there goes the hot air out of the ideological balloon of Ayn Randian eugenic pseudoscience!

It will be very interesting, as well as very amusing, to see what other unbelievable mismatches between genomes will be proven.

Fantastic bestiaries, indeed!

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