Nothing in Biology Makes Sense: Making sense of gene tree conflict across an entire genome

The only illustration in The Origin of Species. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

This week at Nothing in Biology Makes Sense, I discuss my latest research paper, which has just been published online ahead of print in Systematic Biology. In it, my coauthors and I use a genome-wide data set to reconstruct relationships among a couple dozen species in the genus Medicago—a data set that proved to be kind of a challenge.

Using that data, we identified some 87,000 individual DNA bases that varied among the sampled species—single-nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNPs. That’s not a lot in terms of actual sequence data—but considering that every one of those 87,000 SNPs is a variable character, and that most of them were probably spread far enough across the genome to have independent evolutionary histories, it contains many more independent “gene trees” than most DNA data sets used to estimate phylogenies.

To learn how we tackled all those gene trees, and what we found when we did, go read the whole thing.◼

Fire ants, foolish flies, and phylogenomics

DSC_9777.jpg Fire ants. Photo by hankplank.

I’m out of town at a conference this week (more on that at a later date), but it’s been a busy one for both blogging and academics. At the Molecular Ecologist, I’ve got a Q&A with Yannick Wurm, the lead author on a cool study that uses high-throughput sequencing data to demonstrate that one species of fire ants has a “social chromosome” which determines how many queens a single colony can support.

In particular this has been extensively studied in the red Solenopsis invicta fire ant: some colonies have up to hundreds of wingless queens, but other colonies contain strictly one single wingless queen. And this is stable: any additional queen you try to add to a single-queen colony is executed by the workers.

Then, at Nothing in Biology Makes Sense! I discuss a new study of local adaptation by a South African daisy, which fools bee flies into mating with its petals, the better to pick up and transport pollen.

What makes G. diffusa more interesting, to an evolutionary biologist, is that not all populations of the daisy practice this deception. The pattern of G. diffusa‘s petals varies across its range—and not all petal patterns prompt the pollinators to hump the flower.

And finally, the first paper from my postdoctoral work in the Tiffin lab is officially online at Systematic Biology. It’s a project in using a very large genetic dataset—tens of thousands of markers—to reconstruct the evolutionary history of the genus Medicago, which includes my current favorite plant. It’s attached to my very first Dryad data package, which provides all the original data underlying the paper. I’ll be writing about this work in more detail in the near future.◼