“For over a hundred years, we’ve been classifying organisms according to how they look and are put together anatomically, but molecular data often tells us a rather different story”, says Matthew Wills, Professor of Evolutionary Paleobiology at the Milner Centre for Evolution.
New research led by scientists at the Milner Centre for Evolution suggests that determining evolutionary trees of organisms by comparing anatomy rather than gene sequences is misleading. The study, published in Communications Biology, shows that we often need to overturn centuries of scholarly work to classify living things according to how they look.
A counterintuitive example is the small elephant shrew native to Africa. The molecular evolutionary trees indicate that elephant shrews are more closely related to elephants than they are to shrews.
“It turns out that we’ve got lots of our evolutionary trees wrong”, concludes Professor Wills.
The news article published by the University of Bath is available here.