Nov 07, 2014 07:00 PM EST
While bacteria win the award for largest species abundance, and Archaea take the award for oldest organisms known to man, the most abundant animal on the face of the Earth is still the formidable and diverse phyla arthropoda-which include all species of insects.
They come in an array of shapes and sizes, and compose nearly 80 percent of all animal species identified by man to date, and there are still undoubtedly thousands of species we've yet to find. But researchers believe that the diverse little creepy crawly bunch may hold more secrets than they let on, perhaps even secrets about our very own evolutionary origins.
As insect fossils are rather rare finds, in that the tiny bodies of the arthropods are often crushed in the process, a team of more than 100 international researchers convened at the University of Florida earlier this past summer to find the history of insects in the one place they knew kept an exact historical record-their genomes. Participating in a project known as the 1,000 Insect Transcriptome Evolution (1Kite) study, published this week in the journal Science, the researchers mapped the genomes of 1,200 species across the class of insects and highlighted 144 cases in their results.
"The biodiversity of insects is huge; they are the largest species group on the planet" lead researcher of the study, Jessica Ware says. "Whatever people do, insects did it first. They waged war, they took slaves, they learned to work cooperatively, they flew, they farmed."
Utilizing supercomputers to analyze the millions of base-coding DNA, the researchers were able to compare far more information than what was previously achievable through the fossil record. Filling in the gaps of what researchers once knew, the international team was able to find that terrestrial plants and insects shaped land ecosystems when they simultaneously originated nearly 480 million years ago.
Taking the history of insects even farther back than once believed, the researchers were not only able to date the origins of the arthropods back 480 million years, but were also able to now see when and where traits like herbivory, parasitism and even flight evolved from, in the evolutionary timeline they created.
And the researchers say that's far from the last you'll hear of the study. As the research team continues to now decipher the genetic coding, and compare more genomes they sequenced during the study, they believe that more and more of the insects' fascinating history will come to light. And perhaps that it'll even tell us a bit about our origins, as well.
"Insects are one of the most species-rich groups of metazoan organisms; they play a pivotal role in most non-marine ecosystems and many insect species are of enormous economical and medical importance" Ware says. "Unraveling the evolution of insects is essential for understanding how life in terrestrial and limnic environments evolved."
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