ECOLOGY/EVOLUTION

Sequence and Structure

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Science  18 Jul 2003:
Vol. 301, Issue 5631, pp. 279
DOI: 10.1126/science.301.5631.279d

Using molecular sequence data to determine the phylogenetic relationships of the major groups of organisms has yielded some spectacular successes but has also thrown up some conundrums. One such is the relationship of birds to the rest of the tetrapods. Morphological data and most molecular studies have placed the birds closer to the crocodiles than to any other tetrapod group, but analysis of sequence data from 18S ribosomal RNA (rRNA) has persistently allied the birds more closely to the mammals. There have been several attempts to account for this niggling doubt, and Xia et al. now show that the discrepancy arose because of methodological flaws in the analysis of 18S rRNA data, which caused, among other things, misalignment of sequences from the different taxa. When structure-based alignment is carried out, the resulting phylogeny matches those obtained by other means, with the birds allied to the crocodiles via a common reptilian ancestor. — AMS

Syst. Biol. 52, 283 (2003).

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