MicroRNA Helps Put Turtles “In Their Place”

A new technique for animal classification could quell the long-running debate between paleontologists and molecular biologists as to where turtles belong on the evolutionary tree. While some camps have argued that turtles are closer to crocodilians and birds, researchers at the Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine; Dartmouth College; and Harvard University have published data in Biology Letters suggesting that turtles are more closely related to tuataras and lizards. The team identified 77 new microRNA families in the Anolis carolinensis lizard genome, four of which are also expressed in Chrysemys picta bellii, the Western painted turtle, leading them to conclude that turtles and lizards have much more in common than previously thought.