Assembling the tree of life

Daniel Janies
Department of Biomedical Informatics, The Ohio State University

(January 31, 2011 2:30 PM - 3:30 PM)

Assembling the tree of life

Abstract

The National Science foundation has funded many groups to assemble a framework phylogeny, or Tree of Life, for all major lineages of life. This effort requires large teams working across institutions and disciplines. In 2011, The Ohio State University has joined with nine other institutions to contribute the Echinoderm branch to the Tree of Life. The tree of life is incomplete without inclusion of the diverse marine animal phylum Echinodermata. The Echinodermata includes familiar organisms such as starfish and sea urchins as well as a wide array of extinct forms stretching back to the Cambrian Period. Echinoderms share a recent common ancestor with other deuterostomes, including chordates, and provide a crucial link to understanding the tree of life as a whole and the history of our species. However, understanding echinoderm phylogeny presents unique challenges. Whereas echinoderms are bilaterian animals, they have diverged considerably from this form. Most living echinoderms have five-sided symmetry. Moreover, the five living echinoderm classes are only a fraction of the diversity of Echinodermata (total class diversity is 21). Thus much of echinoderm diversity is known only from fossils. In recognition of these challenges, we have built a team to consider the fossil and the living echinoderms together. This work brings together experts from around the world within paleontology, genomics, informatics, developmental biology, anatomy, and phylogenetics. I will discuss our first results and the challenges that lay ahead. For more info see http://www.osu.edu/watch/45s4Ay5-vzIV8