A History Lesson, or “Phylogenetic Revelations Inspired by Molecular & Morphological Data”

Last week I spent most of my time…
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…learning how to extract DNA from tissue samples …

 

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…pipetting liquid A into liquid B to amplify segments of DNA through Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR)

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…and running gels to make sure all of that worked!

 

These skills are crucial for molecular biology work.

On Friday, I met with Professor Near and learned more about the project, particularly how my molecular work relates to his phylogenetic theories for E. Kennicotti. But first: what is phylogenetics?
Phylogeneticists study the evolutionary history and relationships among individuals or groups of organisms. (Thanks, Google.) We construct trees that show the links between species based on their most recent common ancestor.

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This phylogenetic tree shows that A and B share a more recent common ancestor (signified by the nodes) than either does with C. Thus lineages A and B diverged more recently than lineage C.

 

Professor Near believes that the group known as E. Kennicotti actually contains multiple different species (Rich Harrington, E. France, M. Thomas, & T. Near unpublished). We examine this theory through phylogeography, the examination of geographic distributions of individuals in relation to their genetic lineages; morphological variation, the similarities and differences between the physical structures of individuals; and molecular variation, the similarities and differences between the genetic material of individuals.

Much work has been done already, and more lies ahead.

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