Dinosaurs Connections

Dinosaurs All Around Us

What recent genome study may rewrite the evolutionary history of birds?

The debate about the origin of birds—and their connections to dinosaurs—has reached into the molecular lab. For many years, the Early Bird Assembling the Tree-of-Life Research Project, centered at The Field Museum in Chicago, has been examining DNA sequences from all major living bird groups. So far, more than 32 kilobases of nuclear DNA sequences from 19 different locations on the DNA sequencing have been checked for each of 169 bird species. This massive undertaking has already revealed some birds “secrets.” For example, distinctive bird lifestyles, such as being nocturnal or raptorial, may have evolved several times. One example is the colorful, daytime hummingbirds that evolved from the darker-colored, nocturnal nightjars. As the studies continue, researchers already know that not only will the names of dozens of birds have to be changed, but so will many biology, paleontology, and birdwatchers’ field guides.


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