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2001 Annual Science Report

Pennsylvania State University Reporting  |  JUL 2000 – JUN 2001

Timescale for the Evolution of Life on Earth: Molecular Evolution Approach - S. Blair Hedges

4 Institutions
3 Teams
0 Publications
0 Field Sites
Field Sites

Project Progress

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Timescale for the Evolution of Life on Earth: Molecular Evolution Approach (dm)

Studies continue on the evolution of prokaryotes and eukaryotes, with emphasis on clarifying relationships and divergence times using genomic data, and relating this to Earth history. We completed an initial study of prokaryote genomes where we discovered that many eukaryotic genes of eubacterial origin arise basally among eubacteria rather than being close to alpha-proteobacteria. The simplest explanation is that they arose through an earlier, pre-mitochondrial, symbiotic event. Our time for the origin of cyanobacteria is later than anticipated yet precedes the time period (2.4-2.0 Ga) that some believe represents the major rise in oxygen. We completed a study of fungi and land plants with a large number of nuclear protein-coding genes indicating that land was colonized much earlier (>1 Ga) than the fossil record indicates (~480 Myr ago). We proposed that this early colonization of land by eukaryotes affected the climate of the Proterozoic, possibly leading to the Neoproterozoic snowball Earth events and Cambrian explosion of animals. When compared with previous goals set, we found that productivity (discoveries) has been higher than expected, but that attempting to predict what specific topics and areas of study will yield breakthroughs is difficult. The approach we have taken is to follow the general goals of the project but to be flexible enough to direct energy towards areas showing greatest rewards at any one time.

    S. Blair Hedges
    Project Investigator

    David Geiser

    Jaime Blair
    Doctoral Student

    Laura Poling
    Graduate Student

    Hsiong Chen
    Undergraduate Student

    Brooke Eidell
    Undergraduate Student

    Daniel Heckman
    Undergraduate Student

    Natalie Kardos
    Undergraduate Student

    Rebecca Stauffer
    Undergraduate Student

    Amanda Thompson
    Undergraduate Student

    Objective 2.0
    Develop and test plausible pathways by which ancient counterparts of membrane systems, proteins and nucleic acids were synthesized from simpler precursors and assembled into protocells.

    Objective 4.0
    Expand and interpret the genomic database of a select group of key microorganisms in order to reveal the history and dynamics of evolution.

    Objective 5.0
    Describe the sequences of causes and effects associated with the development of Earth's early biosphere and the global environment.

    Objective 7.0
    Identify the environmental limits for life by examining biological adaptations to extremes in environmental conditions.

    Objective 8.0
    Search for evidence of ancient climates, extinct life and potential habitats for extant life on Mars.

    Objective 11.0
    Determine (theoretically and empirically) the ultimate outcome of the planet-forming process around other stars, especially the habitable ones.

    Objective 12.0
    Define climatological and geological effects upon the limits of habitable zones around the Sun and other stars to help define the frequency of habitable planets in the universe.

    Objective 14.0
    Determine the resilience of local and global ecosystems through their response to natural and human-induced disturbances.