Duh! That’s Obvious, Edition
Take a look at this mastodon skeleton:
Does it look like anything you recognize? Perhaps a large terrestrial mammal with big tusks. If you said “elephant” you win. The prize: nothing.
That is half of the conclusion from a recent paper in Science (doi:10.1126/science.1154284). Really. The other half: birds and dinosaurs are pretty closely related. Or, more specifically, birds and Tyrannosaurus rex — THE COOLEST MOST AWESOMEST OF ALL DINOSAURS EVER!! — are closely related. And, for this, they get a Science paper.
Now, the way they did this is pretty damn cool: they sequenced proteins from T. rex bones. But that was reported last year (doi:10.1126/science.1137614) in the paper where they screwed up the species name in the title (they got it right this time around). Anyway, some of the same people took those sequences and, along with some other sequences that they mined from various databases, constructed a phylogenetic tree of vertebrates.
That right there is the tree, with dinos and birds together, and mastodons and elephants together. It’s totally unremarkable, but it got into Science (no, I’m not jealous). Now, this approach has the potential to resolve some long-standing conflicts in vertebrate systematics. This paper, however, does not resolve anything. It’s a sexy method that will probably be difficult to implement elsewhere.
Asara JM, Schweitzer MH, Freimark LM, Phillips M, and Cantley LC. 2007. Protein Sequences from Mastodon and Tyrannosaurus Rex Revealed by Mass Spectrometry. Science 316: 280-285 doi:10.1126/science.1137614
Organ CL, Schweitzer MH, Zheng W. Freimark LM, Cantley LC, and Asara JM. 2008. Molecular Phylogenetics of Mastodon and Tyrannosaurus rex. Science 320: 499 doi:10.1126/science.1154284