The Chondrichthyans, or sharks, rays and chimaeras, are some of the best known marine animals in popular culture but poorly known in terms of their evolution. Despite being an ancient group, we know surprisingly little about the patterns and processes that gave rise to their current diversity - a diversity that is increasingly under threat through environmental and fishing pressures. This project will catalog the diversity of sharks, skates, rays and chimaeras, provide a genealogy of relationships based on DNA sequence comparisons, and provide a data base of 3-D virtual skeletons based on CT scan data to document all of the physical variations that characterize the major lineages.
The project will involve the development of technologies that will impact the way DNA sequences are collected for the purpose of comparison across organisms. This could have far reaching benefits for disciplines such as comparative biochemistry, physiology and medicine that are based on comparative approaches. The outreach component of the project will exploit the popular appeal of sharks to show how modern molecular biology and computer visualization techniques are being applied to better understand the evolution of the world's increasingly threatened biodiversity.
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. The images and digitized data from this project will be integrated into the online national resource as outlined in the community strategic plan available at http://digbiocol.files.wordpress.com/2010/05/digistratplanfinaldraft.pdf.