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Science

Genetic Convergent Evolution: Stunning Gene Similarities Among Diverse Animals 164

Posted by Soulskill
from the science-is-beautiful dept.
Toe, The writes "It has long been understood that completely different animals can end up with very similar traits (convergent evolution), and even that genes can converge. But a new study shows an unbelievable level of convergence among entire groups of genes. The study shows that animals as diverse as bats and dolphins, which independently developed echolocation, converge in nearly 200 different genomic regions concentrated in several 'hearing genes.' The implications are rather deep, if you think about it, delving into interesting limitations on diversity or insights into the potential of DNA. And perhaps more importantly, this finding goes a long way toward explaining why almost aliens in the universe look surprisingly identical to humans (though still doesn't explain why they all speak English)."
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Genetic Convergent Evolution: Stunning Gene Similarities Among Diverse Animals

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  • by MightyYar (622222) on Wednesday September 04, 2013 @04:15PM (#44760771)

    Not to pooh-pooh this study, but dolphins and bats aren't as far apart as say, bats and moths. If a fish or reptile converged with a mammal that would be more "unbelievable". I think we're in "Oh, cool," territory more than "WHAT????"

    • by goombah99 (560566) on Wednesday September 04, 2013 @04:24PM (#44760859)

      Not to pooh-pooh this study, but dolphins and bats aren't as far apart as say, bats and moths. If a fish or reptile converged with a mammal that would be more "unbelievable". I think we're in "Oh, cool," territory more than "WHAT????"

      Well that's the point. they all start with some common underlying mamallian hearing genes and then they tweak them to develop echolocation.

      My guess is that in addition to certain mutations being easy to evolve (for example a particular mutation might set a rate constant on a binding protein to a be in some useful range for a typical return signal time, to create a clock), that viruses could carry genetic material between species that would bind the dna in common regions and transfer the point mutations between species.

      • by MightyYar (622222)

        they all start with some common underlying mamallian hearing genes and then they tweak them to develop echolocation.

        I guess that's less surprising a result to me than when things like koala thumbs happen. The front paws are kind of like our hands, except that the opposable split happened at the index finger so that they have two "thumbs". In the rear, the split happened at the same place, but then the two "thumbs" fused together, creating a new single "thumb" that is completely different from ours. If they had developed thumbs in the same way that we did, it would have surprised me less.

        • by Shavano (2541114)
          Racoons have forepaws very similar to human hands. Much more so than humans vs. koalas. You see their prints on the ground and it looks like they were made by little babies (except babies don't have sharp claws on the ends of their fingers).
          • by MightyYar (622222)

            Right - that is my expectation... that any creature with basic mammal anatomy would adapt in a similar way to a similar stimulus. So, in your example, raccoons are in the same order as dogs, bears, seals, and weasels... and yet they have hands similar to primates. Meanwhile, koalas are a marsupial and yet they have a different adaptation for grasping. Then again, bats are closer relatives to us than either of them!

      • they all start with some common underlying mamallian hearing genes and then they tweak them to develop echolocation.

        Actually, a lot of animals that aren't credited with using echolocation actually use a variation of it: Sounds from their own motion (such as footsteps) create echoes, which their hearing system processes into a map of nearby objects.

        People, for instance, do this. That's why you can "feel" the nearness of walls and objects in the room (especially those near or immediately behind you) without

    • Well, that's true except they independently developed this feature, meaning the common split point didn't have it at the genetic level.

      Did these common genes develop from the same common genes, or completely different ones? As things break and re-arrange, some paths would be more common than others by the very mechanisms of reproduction.

      It may be more like fin vs. arm, the "same stuff", where that is defined as the same genes with alteration, except in this case, the common ancestor genes had nothing to do

    • by gmuslera (3436)
      Like dolphins and sharks (that are around far before mammals), that have a somewhat similar shape? More than having the best shape for a function, having also DNA for genetic code and probably similar decoding engine could explain matches even there.
    • by nashv (1479253)

      Take a look at the comparison of a squid eye, and a mammalian eye [squideyes.com]. This is a mollusc converging with mammals in an organ as complicated as the eye.

      • by MightyYar (622222)

        Thanks, that's a really cool link. Now if they do a genetic analysis and find the DNA also converging, wouldn't that be something?

        • by nashv (1479253)

          Actually it is. The gene responsible is PAX-6 which is responsible for eye development in nearly ALL creatures. However, the convergence is functional, not based entirely on sequence similarity. This is no surprise because while gene sequence similarity indicates common protein structure, different sequences can have similar structures and similar functions. Moreover, it is often particular regions of genes that are important for function , not the entire thing. Mutations outside these functional hotspots c

      • by RockDoctor (15477)
        Though squid eyes and mammal eyes are both functional eyes with a degree of surface similarity, in detail they're very different. In fact, the figure on the page you cite shows the precise difference I was going to raise : in mammalian eyes, the photoreceptor cells are covered by layers of nerves while in the mollusc eye the nerves are at the outside layer of the retina and the photoreceptors are on the inside. In consequence, mammalian eyes have a blind spot, unavoidably, while squid eyes don't.
  • by dorpus (636554) on Wednesday September 04, 2013 @04:20PM (#44760817)

    I got my PhD in statistical genetics. Why should we equate genetic homology to evolutionary homology? All these studies that speak of a hypothetical Adam or Eve assume that the same mutations could not have arisen independently in different parts of the world.

    • My understanding of the slashdot summary is that what you are saying is exactly the point of the study or at least the point that the author of the slashdot blurb wanted to make. No idea why someone labelled this with "intelligent design" as that means no evolution at all.
    • by 0111 1110 (518466)

      I have no idea what you or the article are talking about and I have no idea what the significance of this experiment was or what conclusions can be drawn from it or even what conclusions the author himself may or may not have made. Any chance you could explain any of this to a software/hardware guy like me with zero knowledge of Biology/Genetics? Maybe a software analogy would work.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by tburkhol (121842)

        Underlying genetic evolution is the notion that genes pick up random mutations over time. Most of these have no effect on function, so you can estimate how long ago two species diverged by counting how many differences are in the genome. These guys had the clever idea of taking species that we think diverged a long time ago, but that have a similar trait (ie, echolocation), with the hypothesis that the genes controlling that might be more similar, even in these very different animals, than the genes for d

  • by bob_jordan (39836) on Wednesday September 04, 2013 @04:22PM (#44760825)

    It simply proves that through a process of survival of the fittest, English is evolving at the expense of weaker languages into the perfect language. :-)

    Eventually all you will have is English, and all the programming languages derived from it.

    Bob.

    • by psyque (1234612)
      Maybe one day we'll all be named Bob.
    • Dear Bob, languages do indeed mutate and diverge like animals do, they even go as far as to establish barriers for exchange of their fundamental units when they diverge sufficiently, but they're not selected on basis of some internal fitness, thus ruining your analogy.
      • by bob_jordan (39836)

        There was a time when French was the standard second language across much of Europe. Finance, law, business, diplomacy were all conducted in French. The aristocracy spoke French. The university students were taught in French.

        I'm not trying to say English is better but I would be interested to hear your views on why English took over from French when French had such a lead and "some internal fitness" has nothing to do with it.

        Thanks,

        Bob.

        • I'm not trying to say English is better but I would be interested to hear your views on why English took over from French when French had such a lead and "some internal fitness" has nothing to do with it.

          Because the English picked up the baton from the French! And the language got a free ride. I don't think it impossible for some parallel universe to have the French-speaking États-Unis d'Amérique dominating the world, perhaps with a small English-speaking minority in the state of Charliana. If the fitness of the language were an issue, it would have been a draw since both these languages are perfectly substitutable in whatever role you might need them.

        • by Grishnakh (216268)

          Um, it's really pretty simple. English took over because of WWI and WWII: the French lost in WWII and were taken over by the Germans. The English took a beating too, but finally between the Americans and the Russians, Germany lost and America and Russia were the two big powers. America's language was English, so when they in concert with the British became the main powers for the western-aligned nations, English became the lingua de franca just like French was long before. Meanwhile, Russian became the

      • by gmuslera (3436)
        In general complex memes like language (and religion and so on) adapt and evolve. But the main problem in the gp argumentation is the "becoming perfect", there is no perfection in evolution, just better fit for a particular environment (that could change with time). Anyway cultural barriers usually deny adoptions of better language features (i.e. German speakers are better saving money [theglobeandmail.com]) because tradition, national pride, or whatever.
        • "Better language features" is an idea straight from the outdated 19th century, or perhaps even more prominently 18th century view of linguistics. No such thing as "better language features" has ever been observed by serious modern linguists.
          • by gmuslera (3436)
            Not of the language by itself, but for the effect on how you see the world or your attitude in certain situations, check the link in my post.
            • the effect on how you see the world or your attitude in certain situations

              You know, people have been trying to prove one form of linguistic relativity or another for a century or longer, and they've failed at it, sometimes quite spectacularly. In real world, it's extremely difficult to separate cultural and linguistic background (although the two are not completely interlinked in principle), and if you *really* wanted to do a study on this, you'd probably have to do something like taking a few hundred identical twins, letting each of any pair grow up in a household differing from

              • by gmuslera (3436)

                Is not about in particular english or german (in fact, most germanic languages should fit, english is one exception), nor a particular country (maybe his TED talk [ted.com] clears a bit some of the concepts, in countries where there are several languages but the same culture have that differences between the speakers of each language), is about a language feature, and how basis in the language change how you see and understand the world. In mandarin chinese you don't go forward and backward in time, but up and down,

                • In mandarin chinese you don't go forward and backward in time, but up and down, for some australian language you don't have your subjective left/right/forward/back, but absolute north/south/east/west (and time goes east to west, as the sun). And that change of view implies changes on attitudes, behaviour or even abilities (like better caring about the future or ever knowing where are the cardinal points, unless you go to tricky test situations).

                  Again, I won't be happy until there is a consensus in the linguistic community that these claims are in any way rooted in reality. A quack economist fumbling with languages ought not to be your primary source for all matters linguistic and cognitive.

    • by Genda (560240)

      You seem to have mistaken wealth and power with fitness. I expect that in a century, your Great Grand Children will greet one anther with a cheery "Ni Hao!"

    • Eventually all you will have is English, and all the programming languages derived from it.

      Bob.

      Realize the truth: The programming languages are the ones you will all have to learn. English is easier to represent in machine speak... Look at Japanese, Simplified now goes from left to right, top to bottom -- instead of top to bottom right to left. Why? It's easier for machines to process languages if they've got common features.

      Before End: For all features in $LANGUAGE if ( $FEATURE is ambiguous or [ parse difficulty > $COGNITVE_LOAD average ] ) remove it from $LANGUAGE.

      Your language will mer

  • by l0ungeb0y (442022) on Wednesday September 04, 2013 @04:28PM (#44760879) Homepage Journal

    And perhaps more importantly, this finding goes a long way toward explaining why almost aliens in the universe look surprisingly identical to humans

    I know this is tongue in cheek humor, but -- NO, IT DOES NOT DO ANYTHING OF THE SORT! DNA is chemical in origin and so goes, different chemical compositions of different planets would give rise to vastly different DNA compositions resulting in life nothing like our own.

    • Dude, chill. From a story-maker's perspective, ANY sort of evidence for convergent evolution is all they need to justify aliens being bipedal and have faces and things.

      Secondly, why do you even assume that alien life would have DNA? It's just one method of storing build instructions. There are probably others.

      Finally, and this is the main thrust of the story here, even though DNA is "chemical in origin" that doesn't make one damn bit of difference to, say, aerodynamics. If an ecosystem develops flight throu

    • by meglon (1001833)

      DNA is chemical in origin and so goes, different chemical compositions of different planets would give rise to vastly different DNA compositions resulting in life nothing like our own.

      No.

      You're suggesting that we are a product solely of availability of resources. While that is true only in the widest possible understanding, a simple review of compositions shows it doesn't hold for what you're suggesting.

      The chemical composition of the human body: 65% Oxygen, 18% Carbon, 10% Hydrogen, 3% Nitrogen, 1.4% Calcium, 1.1% Phosphorous...then less than .25% of a whole bunch of others. What you're suggesting would mean that because we know that, we can say that the environment we live in

      • by Immerman (2627577)

        >Our DNA is the way it is because that is the simplest, most stable way those molecules could form that produced the end result they did.

        Not at all. More than likely it (or more likely its precursors) was simply one of the first self-replicating molecule to get firmly established on our planet, and out-competed all others for raw materials. All subsequent evolution then had to build upon a foundation of already-evolved functionality and available organic resources.

        Evolution is an exercise in making the

    • "And perhaps more importantly, this finding goes a long way toward explaining why almost aliens in the universe look surprisingly identical to humans"

      Since we're going off-tangent here, I'd say this finding goes a long way toward explaining why a Galaxy S looks surprisingly identical to an iPhone. Similar function, similar form. If you want a device with a touch screen and you want it in the sleekest form factor, with few hardware buttons and maximum screen real estate, you will come up with an iPhone. Or a

  • by WarJolt (990309) on Wednesday September 04, 2013 @04:28PM (#44760881)

    They all speak English because they've been watching all our old shows that have been beamed into space for decades.

    • And amazingly they all have a Cuban accent - "you got some 'splaining to do!"

    • You might have told this in jest but...

      Our old show have become non distinguishable from noise within a few to a few hundred AU. Some narrowband concentrated general signal might have gotten within a light year. maybe. The only signal we know for sure would be audible afetr 1 light year, were the few sent from arecibo S band, and a few others. In the whole history of mankind , we are talking about 1 hour or 2 worth of transmission time (and they were narrow band, high power radio signals intentionally sen
  • why almost aliens in the universe look surprisingly identical to humans

    And just what are "Almost Aliens"? All I can think of is that they are aliens that claim to have been born in Hawaii.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      We come from.... France.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Could this have anything to do with horizontal gene transfer ?

    • by Genda (560240)

      For 1, maybe even 3 or 5 genes, not 200.

      • by geekoid (135745)

        Escherichia coli can transfer as many as 20% of it's 5000 or so genes.

        Do you have any reason besides pulling it out of your ass for the reasoning behind you post?

  • I'm not sure I understand why this is surprising to the researchers ... I mean, if the independent evolution of certain abilities in diverse species happens, doesn't it make sense that it would be expressed in the genetic code in the same ways ? And isn't it true that many collections of genes tend to be responsible for the manifestation of physiological attribute rather than just a few ? So doesn't it make sense that complex physiological abilities like echo location would require a lot of genetic comm
    • I agree completely, and I have multiple degrees in biochemistry and molecular biology. You do get totally different sequences which end up coding for the same protein structures, but like you seem to understand there are strict physical limits on what structures can actually perform a particular function, so especially for complex functions involving hundreds of coding sequences you might expect significant convergence.

      Also what is that T, "theorist?"

  • If there is a Creator of life, then we would expect to see the blueprints used for more than one construction site...perhaps even more than one planet. Alternatively, however, if we are all actors in a play that no one wrote, then randomness would be expected to create more genetic diversity.
    • by oodaloop (1229816) on Wednesday September 04, 2013 @06:09PM (#44761677)
      Then the evidence is overwhelmingly pointing to no creator. The genes that code for intelligence in corvid birds and chimpanzees are different. The genes that code for wings in birds, bats, insects, and pterasaurs are completely different. The genes that code for white fur and similar looking white filaments in plants are way off. Wouldn't a creator just reuse white fur on cotton plants? The genetic diversity across the seven kingdoms and the millions of species is vast, with genetic convergence the extremely rare exception, not the rule (hence why this is newsworthy). Sorry, your own argument points to there being no creator.
    • by geekoid (135745)

      "If there is a Creator of life, then we would expect to see the blueprints used for more than one construction site"
      I could put together an argument that says the exact opposite.

      "Alternatively, however, if we are all actors in a play that no one wrote, then randomness would be expected to create more genetic diversity."
      Only if you are clueless about evolutionary theory.

      • by dtjohnson (102237)
        Okay, let's consider sex (always a good thing to consider). Genesis in the Bible says that God created two sexes, male and female. Now, if there is no Creator with a building plan, then we might expect to see more variety in the area of reproduction among us higher animal types rather than the standard male/female stuff we are so used to. For example, there is no need for separate male and female sexes. One individual could carry both male and female reproduction equipment and use either depending on th
        • by Creedo (548980)

          Okay, let's consider sex (always a good thing to consider). Genesis in the Bible says that God created two sexes, male and female. Now, if there is no Creator with a building plan, then we might expect to see more variety in the area of reproduction among us higher animal types rather than the standard male/female stuff we are so used to.

          Then consider it. The most common form of reproduction in the world is asexual. Hermaphroditism is also quite common. It is also not uncommon for species to flip sexes depending on environmental queues, even in multicellular species as complex as fish and amphibians. Hell, there are species of fish in which the male is absorbed into the female and becomes a new set of gonads for her! Even the more familiar male/female dynamics are not clearcut. Many species have neuters. Others have evolved complex behavior

          • Some reptiles (lizards) are suspected of changing genders, but it has not been directly observed. Parthenogenesis has been observed in some species of (female) lizards. While all confirmed parthenogenesis with lizards result in females there are some rather bizarre relationships with some of the species that are known to do this. That is there seems to be multiple linkages between several closely related species. In each lineage the genetic diversity is small and almost all of the lines are females.

          • by dtjohnson (102237)
            "The most common form of reproduction in the world is asexual."

            No, it is not. Almost all mammals (which is what humans are) reproduce sexually. Among the 'higher animals' that we were discussing, most reproduce sexually, for unknown reasons. It could be argued that sexual reproduction is the means by which a Creator created both us and the biblical animals upon which scripture refers to for for food, transportation, comfort, fear, etc. OTOH, all prokaryotes reproduce asexually but we were not talkin
  • by Trax3001BBS (2368736) on Wednesday September 04, 2013 @06:39PM (#44761875) Homepage Journal

    To perform the analysis, the team had to sift through millions of letters of genetic code using a computer program developed
    to calculate the probability of convergent changes occurring by chance, so they could reliably identify ‘odd-man-out’ genes.

    I was following a different train of thought; trying to support it came across this:

    "In the traditional approach, the dynamic programming based pair-wise alignment is used for measuring the similarity between two sequences.
    This method does not work well in a large data set."
    http://link.springer.com/static-content/lookinside/465/chp%253A10.1007%252F3-540-45554-X_47/000.png [springer.com]

    Paywall, the above is all there is. Text mining techniques were used in the research.

    http://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007%2F3-540-45554-X_47 [springer.com]
    Hoang Kiem and Do Phuc (snicker, he said...).

  • Proof of Creation!! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by haruchai (17472) on Wednesday September 04, 2013 @07:17PM (#44762093)

    They were all very intelligently designed by the Great Programmer. There's even code reuse.

    • by TarPitt (217247)

      But did the Great Programmer use Agile or Waterfall?

      Until we can know, this will be the source of great sectarian divides and shrill accusations of heresy

  • And perhaps more importantly, this finding goes a long way toward explaining why almost aliens in the universe look surprisingly identical to humans (though still doesn't explain why they all speak English).

    Simple convergent evolution explains why Vulcans, Betazoids, and Klingons (sometimes) look so much like humans, but this genetic analysis explains* why hybrids such as Spock, Deanna Troi, and B'Elanna Torres are genetically possible.

    *ignoring ST:TNG "The Chase"

  • you mean 'predicted', then yes.

  • The reason for this is evolution. We were all taught that evolution was BP changing, when fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Evolution is based on virus cutting DNA from one mammal, and then injecting it into another. So, what carries those virus around? The biggest carriers are mosquitoes. So, when Bill gates was talking originally about getting rid of all mosquitoes, he was talking about bringing evolution to a crawl, rather than the relatively fast pace that it moves at.

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