Marine biology Professor Gavin Naylor is working with post-doctoral fellows, graduate students and undergraduates on a project to identify how species evolve, and then to create an evolutionary tree of sharks and rays. As Naylor explains, at certain points in time, species diverge, causing similar organisms to develop different traits – such as a saltwater fish developing the ability to live in freshwater. Naylor wants to discover what genes are responsible for the development of these kinds of traits.
They've discovered a way for biologists seeking to understand differences across similar species to capture and isolate organisms’ genes much more effectively and then better analyze and compare their genomes. Naylor, it means they could much more efficiently study the difference in the genomes of assorted sharks and rays.
The team has also created a web-accessible database that is an evolutionary tree of sharks and rays. The site includes more than 1,200 species with scientific illustrations, distribution maps, interactive CT scans, and more.