Using a dataset consisting of 144 carefully chosen species, 1KITE scientists have just presented reliable estimates on the dates of origin and relationships of all major insect groups based on the enormous molecular dataset they collected. They show that insects originated at the same time as the earliest terrestrial plants about 480 million years ago.
Their analyses suggest that insects and plants shaped the earliest terrestrial ecosystems together, with insects developing wings to fly 400 million years ago, long before any other animal could do so, and at nearly the same time that land plants first grew substantially upwards to form forests.
Snakefly (Dichrostigma flavipes). Copyright: Dr. Oliver Niehuis, ZFMK, Bonn
“Insects are the most species rich organisms on earth. They are of immense ecological, economic and medical importance and affect our daily lives, from pollinating our crops to vectoring diseases,” says Dr. Bernhard Misof, Professor from Research Museum Alexander Koenig - Leibniz Institute for Animal Biodiversity (ZFMK) in Bonn, Germany. “We can only start to understand the enormous species richness and ecological importance of insects with a reliable reconstruction of how they are related.”
“Phylogeny forms the foundation for telling us the who?, what?, when?, and why? of life,” says Dr. Karl Kjer of Rutgers - State University of New Jersey. “Many previously intractable questions are now resolved, while many of the “revolutions” brought about by previous analyses of smaller molecular datasets have contained errors that are now being corrected.”
The new reconstruction of the insect tree of life was possible by contributions of more than 100 experts in molecular biology, insect morphology, paleontology, insect taxonomy, evolution, embryology bioinformatics and scientific computing. The consortium was led by Kjer (Rutgers - State University of New Jersey, USA), Dr. Xin Zhou (Deputy Director of the China National GeneBank, BGI-Shenzhen), and Prof. Dr. Bernhard Misof from the ZFMK.
“We wanted to promote research on the little-studied genetic diversity of insects,” says Dr. Xin Zhou, Deputy Director of the China National GeneBank, BGI-Shenzhen in China, who initiated the project. “For applied research, it will become possible to comparatively analyze metabolic pathways of different insects and use this information to more specifically target pest species or insects that affect our resources. The genomic data we studied (the transcriptome – all of the expressed genes) gives us a very detailed and precise view into the genetic constitution and evolution of the species studied.”
However, the goal to analyze more than 1,000 insect transcriptomes, a set of all RNA molecules, posed a major challenge to the bioinformatics and scientific computing team within 1KITE. “During the planning phase of the project it became clear that the available software would not be able to handle the enormous amount of data,” said Prof. Dr. Alexandros Stamatakis, head of the research group „Scientific Computing“ at the Heidelberg Institute for Theoretical Studies (HITS) and Professor for High Performance Computing at the life sciences of the Karlsruhe Institute for Technology (KIT). “The development of novel software and algorithms to handle “big data” such as these, is another notable accomplishment of the 1KITE team, and lays a theoretical foundation for future analyses of other very large phylogenomic data sets.”
'Phylogenomics resolves the timing and pattern of insect evolution', Bernhard Misof, Shanlin Liu, Karen Meusemann, Ralph S. Peters, Alexander Donath, Christoph Mayer, Paul B. Frandsen, Jessica Ware, Tomá Flouri, Rolf G. Beutel, Oliver Niehuis, Malte Petersen, Fernando Izquierdo-Carrasco, Torsten Wappler, Jes Rust, Andre J. Aberer, Ulrike Aspöck, Horst Aspöck, Daniela Bartel, Alexander Blanke, Simon Berger, Alexander Böhm, Thomas Buckley, Brett Calcott, Junqing Chen, Frank Friedrich, Makiko Fukui, Mari Fujita, Carola Greve, Peter Grobe, Shengchang Gu, Ying Huang, Lars S. Jermiin, Akito Y. Kawahara, Lars Krogmann, Martin Kubiak, Robert Lanfear, Harald Letsch, Yiyuan Li, Zhenyu Li, Jiguang Li, Haorong Lu, Ryuichiro Machida, Yuta Mashimo, Pashalia Kapli, Duane D. McKenna, Guanliang Meng, Yasutaka Nakagaki, José Luis Navarrete-Heredia, Michael Ott, Yanxiang Ou, Günther Pass, Lars Podsiadlowski, Hans Pohl, Björn M. von Reumont, Kai Schütte, Kaoru Sekiya, Shota Shimizu, Adam Slipinski, Alexandros Stamatakis, Wenhui Song, Xu Su, Nikolaus U. Szucsich, Meihua Tan, Xuemei Tan, Min Tang, Jingbo Tang, Gerald Timelthaler, Shigekazu Tomizuka, Michelle Trautwein, Xiaoli Tong, Toshiki Uchifune, Manfred G. Walzl, Brian M. Wiegmann, Jeanne Wilbrandt, Benjamin Wipfler, Thomas K. F. Wong, Qiong Wu, Gengxiong Wu, Yinlong Xie, Shenzhou Yang, Qing Yang, David K. Yeates, Kazunori Yoshizawa, Qing Zhang, Rui Zhang, Wenwei Zhang, Yunhui Zhang, Jing Zhao, Chengran Zhou, Lili Zhou, Tanja Ziesmann, Shijie Zou, Yingrui Li, Xun Xu, Yong Zhang, Huanming Yang, Jian Wang, Jun Wang, Karl M. Kjer, Xin Zhou, 7 November Science DOI: 10.1126/science.1257570