Everything About Insects Evolution. They Had A Key Role In Shaping Our Wonderful Earth. More than 100 researchers from 10 countries collaborated to clarify how insects evolved.
Insects evolved at the same time as the earliest plants on land about 480 million years ago, playing a key role in shaping Earth’s earliest terrestrial ecosystems, according to a new study published in Science.
The research newly clarifies insect evolutionary history. It shows that insects started flying 400 million years ago, long before any other animal, and at nearly the same time land plants first grew substantially upwards to form forests.
The study is a collaboration of more than 100 researchers from 10 countries through the 1KITE project (1,000 Insect Transcriptome Evolution).
Using molecular data from 144 carefully chosen species, the research gives reliable estimates on the dates of origin and relationships of all major insect groups. This is critical to understanding the millions insect species alive today that shape our environment and both support and threaten our natural resources.
‘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 Professor Bernhard Misof from the Zoological Research Museum Alexander Koenig in Bonn, Germany, one of those who led the research effort.
‘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, Professor from Rutgers University. ‘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.’
‘This is the first large scale study including all insect lineages. It answers many long held questions about the evolution of the world’s largest and most diverse group of animals’, explains Dr Bjoern von Reumont, postdoctoral researcher at the Natural History Museum London and co-author on the paper.
‘It shows that insects are likely to have originated from a little-known group of venomous crustaceans called Remipedia. I collected the remipedes included in this study, cave diving in underwater cave systems on the Yucatan in Mexico.’
The new reconstruction of the insect tree of life was only possible by a cooperation of more than 100 experts in molecular biology, insect morphology, paleontology, insect taxonomy, evolution, embryology bioinformatics and scientific computing.
The consortium was led by Professor Karl Kjer from Rutgers University, State University of New Jersey, USA; Dr Xin Zhou, Deputy Director of the China National GeneBank, BGI-Shenzhen; and Professor Bernhard Misof from the Zoological Research Museum Alexander Koenig in Bonn, Germany.
‘We wanted to promote research on the little-studied genetic diversity of insects,’ says Dr Xin Zhou, Deputy Director at the China National GeneBank, BGI-Shenzhen, who initiated the project.
‘For applied research, it will become possible to comparatively analyse 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 showing all of the expressed genes – gives us a very detailed and precise view into the genetic constitution and evolution of the species studied.’
However, analysing a large number of insect transcriptomes posed a major challenge to the 1KITE team. ‘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,’ relates Dr. Alexis Stamatakis, group leader at the Heidelberg Institute of Theoretical Studies in Germany.
‘The development of novel software and algorithms to handle ‘big data’ such as this is another notable accomplishment of the 1KITE team, and lays a theoretical foundation for future analyses of other very large phylogenomic data sets.’
The 1KITE team’s diverse strengths and strong international cooperation, including museum repositories for vouchering of specimens, results, and metadata, is a blueprint for international excellence in research.