Whole-Genome Analysis Rewrites History of the Birds

Massive comparison runs on Duke samples, leadership
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Dec 15, 2014

The family tree of birds has been redrawn.

An enormous international scientific effort that compared the whole genomes of 48 bird species has simultaneously published more than two dozen research papers in Science and several other journals.  

Avian Phylogeny from ScienceThe new phylogeny shows ostriches, pigeons and chickens close to the origin of modern birds.

The Avian Phylogenomics Consortium was co-led by Duke neurobiologist Erich Jarvis, whose lab provided most of the DNA used for sequencing at the BGI in China. More than 200 researchers have been involved so far, sharing a massive collection of open access genomic data. 

There's too much great science here to fit into one story, but we can point you in the right direction:

Duke Today has a story about the Jarvis Lab's focus on vocal learning in birds and humans, and the team’s remarkable finding that vocal learning evolved three times in birds and once in humans through similar genetic mechanisms. 

Also in Duke Today, meet a couple of the undergraduate students who performed hours of meticulous sample preparation to isolate the DNA of the first 48 bird species, with hundreds more to come. 

The Duke Research Blog takes a fun tour through a few more of the 20 papers that Jarvis co-authored. (Hint: You may never look at your Sunday dinner the same way again.)

Also found right here on Duke Research is the main explainer piece from the consortium with comments from many of the principals explaining the scope of the entire project. You can skip to Part Two if you just want to see some of the cooler individual findings, but really, it's all pretty cool. 

Finally, if you just want to see the papers themselves, a complete listing of authors, abstracts, DOIs and links for most of them can be found at Science.

UPDATE - Erich Jarvis did a ton of interviews when this story broke. This 8-minute radio interview on the Canadian Broadcast System's "Quirks and Quarks" radio show is among the best of them. 

See also - 

Bloomberg News "Unprecedented Flock of Genomes"

National Geographic "Big Bang in Bird Evolution"

Scientific American "Bird Songs Related to Human Speech"