Complete mitochondrial DNA genome sequences of extinct birds: ratite phylogenetics and the vicariance biogeography hypothesis.
The ratites have stimulated much debate as to how such large flightless birds came to be distributed across the southern continents, and whether they are a monophyletic group or are composed of unrelated lineages that independently lost the power of flight. Hypotheses regarding the relationships among taxa differ for morphological and molecular data sets, thus hindering attempts to test whether plate tectonic events can explain ratite biogeography. Here, we present the complete mitochondrial DNA genomes of two extinct moas from New Zealand, along with those of five extant ratites (the lesser rhea, the ostrich, the great spotted kiwi, the emu and the southern cassowary and two tinamous from different genera. The non-stationary base composition in these sequences violates the assumptions of most tree-building methods. When this bias is corrected using neighbour-joining with log-determinant distances and non-homogeneous maximum likelihood, the ratites are found to be monophlyletic, with moas basal, as in morphological trees. The avian sequences also violate a molecular clock, so we applied a non-parametric rate smoothing algorithm, which minimizes ancestor-descendant local rate changes, to date nodes in the tree. Using this method, most of the major ratite lineages fit the vicariance biogeography hypothesis, the exceptions being the ostrich and the kiwi, which require dispersal to explain their present distribution. (+info)
Enzymatic properties of rhea lysozyme.
Rhea lysozyme was analyzed for its enzymatic properties both lytic and oligomer activities to reveal the structural and functional relationships of goose type lysozyme. Rhea lysozyme had the highest lytic activity at pH 6, followed by ostrich and goose at pH 5.5-6, whereas the optimum of cassowary was at pH 5. pH profile was correlated to the net charge of each molecule surface. On the other hand, the pH optimum for oligomer substrate was found to be pH 4, indicating the mechanism of rhea catalysis as a general acid. The time-course of the reaction was studied using beta-1,4-linked oligosaccharide of N-acetylglucosamine (GlcNAc) with a polymerization degree of n ((GlcNAc)n) (n=4, 5, and 6) as the substrate. This enzyme hydrolyzed (GlcNAc)6 in an endo-splitting manner, which produced (GlcNAc)3+(GlcNAc)3 predominating over that to (GlcNAc)2+ (GlcNAc)4. This indicates that the lysozyme hydrolyzed preferentially the third glycosidic linkage from the nonreducing end. Theoretical analysis has shown the highest rate constant value at 1.5 s-1 with (GlcNAc)6. This confirmed six substrate binding subsites as goose lysozyme (Honda, Y., and Fukamizo, T., Biochim. Biophys. Acta, 1388, 53-65 (1998)). The different binding free energy values for subsites B, C, F, and G from goose lysozyme might responsible for the amino acid substitutions, Asn122Ser and Phe123Met, located at the subsite B. (+info)
Is a large-scale DNA-based inventory of ancient life possible?
A complete DNA-based inventory of the Earth's present biota using large-scale high-throughput DNA sequencing of signature region(s) (DNA barcoding) is an ambitious proposal rivaling the Human Genome Project. We examine whether this approach will also enable us to assess the past diversity of the earth's biota. To test this, we sequenced the 5' terminus of the mitochondrial cytochrome c oxidase I (COI) gene of individuals belonging to a group of extinct ratite birds, the moa of New Zealand. Moa comprised a large number of taxa that radiated in isolation on this oceanic landmass. Using a phylogenetic approach based on a large data set including protein coding and 12S DNA sequences as well as morphology, we now have precise information about the number of moa species that once existed. We show that each of the moa species detected using this extensive data set has a unique COI barcode(s) and that they all show low levels of within-species COI variation. Consequently, we conclude that COI sequences accurately identify the species discovered using the larger data set. Hence, more generally, this study suggests that DNA barcoding might also help us detect other extinct animal species and that a large-scale inventory of ancient life is possible. (+info)
Moa were many.
Until a few hundred years ago, New Zealand hosted several species of flightless ratite birds, collectively known as the moa. We have used mitochondrial sequence data for Dinornis, the largest of the moa, and new coalescent approaches to estimate its population size prior to human arrival ca. 1000-6000 years BP. We show that, as little as 1000 years ago, Dinornis numbered between 300,000 and 1.4 million and that the standing population of all moa species was ca. 3-12 million. This estimate is an order of magnitude larger than the accepted population estimate (ca. 159,000) for all moa species at the arrival of humans and suggests that moa numbers had already declined prior to human settlement. (+info)
Reconstructing the tempo and mode of evolution in an extinct clade of birds with ancient DNA: the giant moas of New Zealand.
The tempo and mode of evolution of the extinct giant moas of New Zealand remain obscure because the number of lineages and their divergence times cannot be estimated reliably by using fossil bone characters only. We therefore extracted ancient DNA from 125 specimens and genetically typed them for a 658-bp mtDNA control region sequence. The sequences detected 14 monophyletic lineages, 9 of which correspond to currently recognized species. One of the newly detected lineages was a genetically divergent form of Megalapteryx originally described as a separate species, two more were lineages of Pachyornis in southern and northeastern New Zealand, and two were basal lineages of South Island Dinornis. When results from genetic typing and previous molecular sexing were combined, at least 33.6% of the specimens were incorrectly classified. We used longer sequences of the control region and nine other mtDNA genes totaling 2,814 base pairs to derive a strongly supported phylogeny of the 14 moa lineages. Molecular dating estimated the most recent common ancestor of moas existed after the Oligocene drowning of New Zealand. However, a cycle of lineage-splitting occurred approximately 4-10 million years ago, when the landmass was fragmented by tectonic and mountain-building events and general cooling of the climate. These events resulted in the geographic isolation of lineages and ecological specialization. The spectacular radiation of moa lineages involved significant changes in body size, shape, and mass and provides another example of the general influence of large-scale paleoenvironmental changes on vertebrate evolutionary history. (+info)
Gender-specific reproductive tissue in ratites and Tyrannosaurus rex.
Unambiguous indicators of gender in dinosaurs are usually lost during fossilization, along with other aspects of soft tissue anatomy. We report the presence of endosteally derived bone tissues lining the interior marrow cavities of portions of Tyrannosaurus rex (Museum of the Rockies specimen number 1125) hindlimb elements, and we hypothesize that these tissues are homologous to specialized avian tissues known as medullary bone. Because medullary bone is unique to female birds, its discovery in extinct dinosaurs solidifies the link between dinosaurs and birds, suggests similar reproductive strategies, and provides an objective means of gender differentiation in dinosaurs. (+info)
Cranial kinesis in palaeognathous birds.
Cranial kinesis in birds is induced by muscles located caudal on the cranium. These forces are transferred onto the moveable parts of the skull via the Pterygoid-Palatinum Complex (PPC). This bony structure therefore plays an essential role in cranial kinesis. In palaeognathous birds the morphology of the PPC is remarkably different from that of neognathous birds and is thought to be related to the specific type of cranial kinesis in palaeognaths known as central rhynchokinesis. We determined whether clear bending zones as found in neognaths are present in the upper bill of paleognaths, and measured bending forces opposing elevation of the upper bill. A static force model was used to calculate the opening forces that can be produced by some of the palaeognathous species. We found that no clear bending zones are present in the upper bill, and bending is expected to occur over the whole length of the upper bill. Muscle forces are more than sufficient to overcome bending forces and to elevate the upper bill. The resistance against bending by the bony elements alone is very low, which might indicate that bending of bony elements can occur during food handling when muscles are not used to stabilise the upper bill. Model calculations suggest that the large processi basipterygoidei play a role in stabilizing the skull elements, when birds have to resist external opening forces on the upper bill as might occur during tearing leafs from plants. We conclude that the specific morphology of the palaeognathous upper bill and PPC are not designed for active cranial kinesis, but are adapted to resist external forces that might cause unwanted elevation of the upper bill during feeding. (+info)
Assessing the fidelity of ancient DNA sequences amplified from nuclear genes.
To date, the field of ancient DNA has relied almost exclusively on mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) sequences. However, a number of recent studies have reported the successful recovery of ancient nuclear DNA (nuDNA) sequences, thereby allowing the characterization of genetic loci directly involved in phenotypic traits of extinct taxa. It is well documented that postmortem damage in ancient mtDNA can lead to the generation of artifactual sequences. However, as yet no one has thoroughly investigated the damage spectrum in ancient nuDNA. By comparing clone sequences from 23 fossil specimens, recovered from environments ranging from permafrost to desert, we demonstrate the presence of miscoding lesion damage in both the mtDNA and nuDNA, resulting in insertion of erroneous bases during amplification. Interestingly, no significant differences in the frequency of miscoding lesion damage are recorded between mtDNA and nuDNA despite great differences in cellular copy numbers. For both mtDNA and nuDNA, we find significant positive correlations between total sequence heterogeneity and the rates of type 1 transitions (adenine --> guanine and thymine --> cytosine) and type 2 transitions (cytosine --> thymine and guanine --> adenine), respectively. Type 2 transitions are by far the most dominant and increase relative to those of type 1 with damage load. The results suggest that the deamination of cytosine (and 5-methyl cytosine) to uracil (and thymine) is the main cause of miscoding lesions in both ancient mtDNA and nuDNA sequences. We argue that the problems presented by postmortem damage, as well as problems with contamination from exogenous sources of conserved nuclear genes, allelic variation, and the reliance on single nucleotide polymorphisms, call for great caution in studies relying on ancient nuDNA sequences. (+info)