Blog Pick of the Month – March

Gone Yachting By DBarefoot, http://www.flickr.com/photos/dbarefoot/7283486/

The winner of Blog Pick of the Month for March is Jonathan Eisen from The Tree of Life blog, for posting the back-story on his recent PLoS ONE publication, “Stalking the Fourth Domain in Metagenomic Data: Searching for, Discovering, and Interpreting Novel, Deep Branches in Marker Gene Phylogenetic Trees“.

The PLoS article describes how the researchers poured over genetic data acquired from micro-organisms living in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans, ultimately identifying a unique sequence that may have origniated from a previously undocumented form of life.

Here’s what they did and found, in Jonathan’s own words:

In the paper, we searched through metagenomic data (sequences from environmental samples) for phylogenetically novel sequences for three standard phylogenetic marker genes (ss-rRNA, recA, rpoB). We focused on sequences from the Venter Global Ocean Sampling data set because, well, we started this analysis many years ago when that was the best data set available (more on this below). What we were looking for were evolutionary lineages of these genes that were separate from the branches that corresponded to the three known “Domains” of life (bacteria, archaea and eukaryotes).

In the paper, we searched through metagenomic data (sequences from environmental samples) for phylogenetically novel sequences for three standard phylogenetic marker genes (ss-rRNA, recA, rpoB). We focused on sequences from the Venter Global Ocean Sampling data set because, well, we started this analysis many years ago when that was the best data set available (more on this below). What we were looking for were evolutionary lineages of these genes that were separate from the branches that corresponded to the three known “Domains” of life (bacteria, archaea and eukaryotes).

We then propose and discuss four potential mechanisms that could lead to the existence of such evolutionarily novel sequences. The two we consider most likely are the following
(1) The sequences could be from novel viruses
(2) The sequences could be from a fourth major branch on the tree of life

Jonathan’s paper was chosen because he used his blog to break the mold of science communication, as his post 1) was used in lieu of a traditional press release, 2) collated media and blog coverage of his PLoS ONE paper, and 3) acted as a continuing forum for updates and discussion on the research.

As always, the blog winner and all of the study authors will receive complimentary PLoS t-shirts along with our heartfelt thanks.

Image via Flickr / DBarefoot

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