Kevin Peterson

Phylogeny: Rewriting Evolution (Nature)

Scientific progress has transformed Darwin’s simple evolutionary tree of life into a bush with a myriad of branches, representing phylogenetic relationships. Now the research of Dartmouth’s molecular palaeobiologist Kevin Peterson is telling us that the branches may all be in the wrong places. Peterson, an associate professor of biological sciences and an adjunct professor of earth sciences, is the subject of an extensive feature story published in the journal Nature.

The article discusses how Peterson’s work on micro RNAs (miRNAs)—short regulatory molecules found in cells—has upended some long-held notions about the evolutionary history of mammals and their relationships today. When miRNAs appears in an animal’s ancestral lineage, they are rarely lost but accumulate over time. This makes miRNAs an important tool in discerning relationships and solving evolutionary puzzles.

Can a Jellyfish Unlock the Secret of Immortality? (The New York Times)

In a New York Times story about research on a hydrozoan known as the “immortal jellyfish,” Dartmouth’s Kevin Peterson, associate professor of biological sciences and adjunct professor of earth sciences, says there is a “shocking amount of genetic similarity between jellyfish and human beings.” The genetic similarities, Peterson tells the Times, may have implications for medicine, especially in terms of longevity and cancer research.

“Immortality might be much more common than we think,” Peterson tells the Times. “There are sponges out there that we know have been there for decades. Sea-urchin larvae are able to regenerate and continuously give rise to new adults.” He adds, “This might be a general feature of these animals. They never really die.”

Read the full story, published 11/28/12 in The New York Times.