A College of Charleston professor has received a $2.2 million dollar grant from the National Science Foundation to study the evolution of sharks, rays and chimaeras.
Under the terms of the five–year research grant, College of Charleston Biology Professor Gavin Naylor will categorize the diversity of sharks, skates, rays and chimaeras, provide a genealogy of relationships based on DNA sequence comparisons and provide a database of 3-D virtual skeletons to document all of the physical variations that characterize the major lineages.
“These are some of the best known marine animals in popular culture but poorly known in terms of their evolution,” says Naylor. “Despite being an ancient group, we know surprisingly little about the patterns and processes that gave rise to their current diversity. It is a diversity that is increasingly under threat through environmental and fishing pressures.”
Naylor says the project will involve the development of technologies that will impact the way DNA sequences are collected for the purpose of comparison across organisms. The project will also show how modern molecular biology and computer visualization techniques are being used to better understand the evolution of the world’s increasingly threatened biodiversity.
The grant is part of a NSF program called Assembling the Tree of Life. This project is part of a 10-year effort to digitize and mobilize the scientific information associated with biological specimens held in U.S. research collections.