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Ancient DNA Sheds New Light on History of Giant Tortoises

Using various genomics and other technologies, a team led by scientists from the Senckenberg Museum of Zoology in Germany have uncovered new details about the migration of ancient giant tortoises from Africa to Madagascar and other nearby islands. Before the arrival of humans, giant tortoises dominated the ecosystems of the oceanic islands in the western Indian Ocean. To better understand the diversity and biogeography of these animals —many species of which are long extinct — the researchers created near-complete mitochondrial genomes from fossils of tortoise species found on Madagascar and the Granitic Seychelles, as well as museum specimens collected hundreds of years ago. As reported in this week's Science Advances, they combined these sequences with ancient DNA, phylogenetic, ancestral range, and molecular clock analyses alongside radiocarbon and paleogeographic evidence to reveal the biogeography and original diversity of the western Indian Ocean tortoise fauna. In doing so, the investigators also discover a previously unknown extinct large-sized tortoise species from Madagascar and propose a dispersal scenario for all western Indian Ocean tortoise species.

The Scan

Machine Learning Helps ID Molecular Mechanisms of Pancreatic Islet Beta Cell Subtypes in Type 2 Diabetes

The approach helps overcome limitations of previous studies that had investigated the molecular mechanisms of pancreatic islet beta cells, the authors write in their Nature Genetics paper.

Culture-Based Methods, Shotgun Sequencing Reveal Transmission of Bifidobacterium Strains From Mothers to Infants

In a Nature Communications study, culture-based approaches along with shotgun sequencing give a better picture of the microbial strains transmitted from mothers to infants.

Microbial Communities Can Help Trees Adapt to Changing Climates

Tree seedlings that were inoculated with microbes from dry, warm, or cold sites could better survive drought, heat, and cold stress, according to a study in Science.

A Combination of Genetics and Environment Causes Cleft Lip

In a study published in Nature Communications, researchers investigate what combination of genetic and environmental factors come into play to cause cleft lip/palate.