A type of prehistoric rat-sized mammal with a long bushy or furry tail has been just determined to be the mother of all existing mammals, a new study reports today in the news and in the journal Science. Researchers announced in the news on February 8, 2013 that they are assembling the tree of life.
The new study is published in the journal Science on February 7, 2013. You can read the abstract on the Morphobank database today. It's known as Project 773: 2013, "The Placental Mammal Ancestor and the Post K-Pg Radiation of Placentals." Some news sources even headline their videos with the slogan put in slang to mean "you're mother was a rat." It refers to the common ancestor of all mammals that use an in-utero placenta to develop and give birth to live young.
The public is welcome to access and become members of the database online called MorphoBank. It contains advanced software for handling the largest compilation of data and images on living and extinct mammals.
MorphoBank is a web application providing an online database and workspace for evolutionary research, specifically systematics (the science of determining the evolutionary relationships among species), according to its website. MorphoBank can be two databases in one. Researches use it to upload images and affiliate data with those images (labels, species names, and related information. The second use is as a database that allows researchers to upload morphological data and affiliate it with phylogenetic matrices.
In both cases, MorphoBank is project-based, meaning a team of researchers can create a project and share the images and associated data exclusively with each other. When a paper associated with the project is published, the research team can make their data permanently available for view on MorphoBank where it is now archived.
Researchers find root of mammals' family tree using MorphoBank
You and your dog or cat may have shared the same common ancestor who looked somewhat like a rat with a long, furry tail and was able to outsmart other creatures to survive the great extinction 66 million years ago, possibly caused by a huge climate-changing asteroid, according to a new study using the database Morphobank.
There are 192 publicly accessible projects in the MorphoBank database as of February 7, 2013 in MorphoBank. Publicly available projects contain 24,985 images and 137 matrices. MorphoBank also has an additional 489 projects that are in progress. These contain an additional 65,186 images and 425 matrices. These will become available as scientists complete their research and release these data. 1,074 scientists and students have joined Morphobank.
You can use it to find out who's studying the root of mammals family tree, a small rat-like creature with a long furry tail that survived the great extinction that wiped out the large creatures, including the dinosaurs, since those little rat-like mammals were able to hide in small places where they couldn't easily be found by the larger creatures.
Who funds MorphoBank?
MorphoBank version 1 was funded by National Science Foundation grant DEB-9903964 to Maureen O'Leary and with financial assistance from the American Museum of Natural History. MorphoBank version 2 was funded by NOAA (NA04OAR4700191). MorphoBank 2.5 and future versions to be developed in 2008 and 2009 were funded through the National Science Foundation (EAR-0622359).
The latest study online features the results of a comprehensive six-year study of the mammalian family tree, scientists finally have found, identified, and reconstructed the most likely common ancestor of the many species on the most abundant and diverse branch of creatures that nourish their young in utero through a placenta. The new study's results appear to support the view that 66 million years ago (give or take a few years) during the global extinctions, all non-avian dinosaurs had to disappear in order for mammals to flourish and thrive.
DNA-driven genealogical link used by scientists
Using DNA-driven genealogy in the form of genetic searching, researchers looked for a common link and found it in an obscure species called the Protungulatum donnae. It has no nick name, but a few refer to it as fluffy long tail rat face. What the creature revealed to scientists was that it appears to be the root of the entire family tree of mammals, including humans and 5,400 species that include dogs, cats, bats, whales, elephants, and other animals that give birth to live young that gestated in a mother's uterus with a placenta for nourishment before birth.
How researchers studied the family tree to find the roots of mammals began by scientists scoring 4,541 phenomic characters (an order of magnitude more than previous studies) to investigate mammal phylogeny. Numerous fossils are included providing critical data on the evolution of anatomy, behavior and biogeography.
Next, the researchers analyzed the data with molecular sequences and calibrated their findings with fossils. The combined data phylogenetic tree shows placental orders originating after the Cretaceous-Paleogene (KPg) boundary.
In the study, researchers found that the phenomic signal dominates the molecular signal to determine the sister taxon of Primates (here Sundatheria [Dermoptera + Scandentia]), a close link between Proboscidea (elephants) and Sirenia (sea cows), and the monophyly of echolocating Chiroptera (bats).
How the findings were classified reported that the Placentalia first split into Xenarthra and Epitheria, and extinct New World species are the oldest members of Afrotheria. Then researchers provided the first phylogenetic reconstruction of the extinct ancestor of Placentalia from extensive phylophenomic data.
The new study received support from the National Science Foundation Divisions of Environmental Biology and the Earth Sciences Assembling the Tree of Life program. Check out the February 8, 2013 Science Daily article, "Largest-ever study of mammalian ancestry completed." There's also the NY Times February 8, 2013 article, "Common Ancestor of Mammals Plucked From Obscurity - NYTimes." Also regarding human evolution see the sites, "New Geology study raises questions about long-held theories of human evolution" and "Prehistoric humans not wiped out by comet, say researchers."
Progress for mass digitizing entire natural history collections at museums worldwide
In a special issue of ZooKeys, initiated by the Natural History Museum London, Vince Smith and Vladimir Blagoderov bring together 18 papers by 81 authors to look at progress and prospects for mass digitizing entire natural history collections, according to the July 24, 2012 news release, "Bringing natural history collections out of the dark."
Centuries of exploration and discovery have documented the diversity of life on Earth. Records of this biodiversity are, for the most part, distributed across varied and distinct natural history collections worldwide. That has made the task of assessing the information in these collections an immense challenge, the largest of which is how to capture specimen data fast enough to achieve digitization of entire collections while maintaining sufficient data quality.
Now, an effort is underway to digitize major collections to unlock their research potential and provide unlimited access to the public. This series of eighteen articles in the open-access journal ZooKeys examines recent advances in imaging systems and data gathering techniques, combined with more collaborative approaches to digitization. These provide a snapshot of progress toward the creation of a global virtual natural history museum.
"As a sample of the natural world, these collections underpin our understanding of ecosystems, biodiversity and the sustainable use of natural resources" says Vince Smith, Cybertaxonomist at the Natural History Museum London, according to the July 24, 2012 news release, Bringing natural history collections out of the dark. "Technical innovations in digitizing hardware, software and data interactions are now making it possible to conceive of wholly digital collections, creating a new frontier for natural history research".
Examples of research covered by these articles include a description to efforts digitise 30 million plant, insect and vertebrate specimens at NCB Naturalis in the Netherlands; new scanning and telemicroscopy solutions to digitize the millions of pinned insect specimens held in the Australian National Insect Collection and its European and North American counterparts, citizen science projects being used to 'crowdsource' the transcription of thousands of specimen labels and field notebooks.
The new data portals provides central access to millions of biological specimens across Europe. See, the original source, Blagoderov V, Smith VS (2012) "Bringing collections out of the dark," in Blagoderov V, Smith VS (Ed). and "No Specimen Left Behind: Mass Digitization of Natural History Collections," ZooKeys 209: 1-6. Pensoft Publishers.