New Type of Phylogenetic Tree Created

BLACKSBURG, Va., May 20 (UPI) — U.S. scientists say they’ve created a new type of phylogenetic “tree of life” for several scientifically important bacteria using a new computerized approach.

The project, led by Virginia Bioinformatics Institute Assistant Professor Allan Dickerman, focused on gamma-proteobacteria — a large group of medically and scientifically important bacteria that includes Escherichia coli, Salmonella typhimurium, and other disease-causing organisms.

The scientists said a powerful phylogenetic tree allows researchers to quickly identify similarities and differences between many different organisms — providing a way to visualize the evolutionary relationships among different biological species that have descended from a common ancestor.

The gamma-proteobacteria tree developed by VBI researchers was reconstructed using powerful computers from as many as 30 million data points of bacterial sequence information.

“Ribosomal RNA is one of the central components of the ribosome, the protein manufacturing machinery of all living cells. In the past, researchers have often depended on looking at a single ribosomal RNA gene to construct evolutionary relationships for their tree-building efforts,” Kelly Williams, a VBI researcher said. “The method we use to make our tree of life uses hundreds of different genes and integrates much more information than can be gleaned from the traditional single gene approach.

“We firmly believe the multi-gene or phylogenomics approach should become the standard for tree-building when several genome sequences are available, which is now the case for most bacterial groups.”

The research appears in the Journal of Bacteriology.

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