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1.  The origin of a derived superkingdom: how a gram-positive bacterium crossed the desert to become an archaeon 
Biology Direct  2011;6:16.
The tree of life is usually rooted between archaea and bacteria. We have previously presented three arguments that support placing the root of the tree of life in bacteria. The data have been dismissed because those who support the canonical rooting between the prokaryotic superkingdoms cannot imagine how the vast divide between the prokaryotic superkingdoms could be crossed.
We review the evidence that archaea are derived, as well as their biggest differences with bacteria. We argue that using novel data the gap between the superkingdoms is not insurmountable. We consider whether archaea are holophyletic or paraphyletic; essential to understanding their origin. Finally, we review several hypotheses on the origins of archaea and, where possible, evaluate each hypothesis using bioinformatics tools. As a result we argue for a firmicute ancestry for archaea over proposals for an actinobacterial ancestry.
We believe a synthesis of the hypotheses of Lake, Gupta, and Cavalier-Smith is possible where a combination of antibiotic warfare and viral endosymbiosis in the bacilli led to dramatic changes in a bacterium that resulted in the birth of archaea and eukaryotes.
This article was reviewed by Patrick Forterre, Eugene Koonin, and Gáspár Jékely
PMCID: PMC3056875  PMID: 21356104
2.  Save the tree of life or get lost in the woods 
Biology Direct  2010;5:44.
The wealth of prokaryotic genomic data available has revealed that the histories of many genes are inconsistent, leading some to question the value of the tree of life hypothesis. It has been argued that a tree-like representation requires suppressing too much information, and that a more pluralistic approach is necessary for understanding prokaryotic evolution. We argue that trees may still be a useful representation for evolutionary histories in light of new data.
Genomic data alone can be highly misleading when trying to resolve the tree of life. We present evidence from protein abundance data sets that genomic conservation greatly underestimates functional conservation. Function follows more of a tree-like structure than genetic material, even in the presence of horizontal transfer. We argue that the tree of cells must be incorporated into any new synthesis in order to place horizontal transfers into their proper selective context. We also discuss the role data sources other than primary sequence can play in resolving the tree of cells.
The tree of life is alive, but not well. Construction of the tree of cells has been viewed as the end goal of the study of evolution, where in reality we need to consider it more of a starting point. We propose a duality where we must consider variation of genetic material in terms of networks and selection of cellular function in terms of trees. Otherwise one gets lost in the woods of neutral evolution.
This article was reviewed by Dr. Eric Bapteste, Dr. Arcady Mushegian, and Dr. Celine Brochier.
PMCID: PMC2910001  PMID: 20594329
3.  Structural analysis of polarizing indels: an emerging consensus on the root of the tree of life 
Biology Direct  2009;4:30.
The root of the tree of life has been a holy grail ever since Darwin first used the tree as a metaphor for evolution. New methods seek to narrow down the location of the root by excluding it from branches of the tree of life. This is done by finding traits that must be derived, and excluding the root from the taxa those traits cover. However the two most comprehensive attempts at this strategy, performed by Cavalier-Smith and Lake et al., have excluded each other's rootings.
The indel polarizations of Lake et al. rely on high quality alignments between paralogs that diverged before the last universal common ancestor (LUCA). Therefore, sequence alignment artifacts may skew their conclusions. We have reviewed their data using protein structure information where available. Several of the conclusions are quite different when viewed in the light of structure which is conserved over longer evolutionary time scales than sequence. We argue there is no polarization that excludes the root from all Gram-negatives, and that polarizations robustly exclude the root from the Archaea.
We conclude that there is no contradiction between the polarization datasets. The combination of these datasets excludes the root from every possible position except near the Chloroflexi.
This article was reviewed by Greg Fournier (nominated by J. Peter Gogarten), Purificación López-García, and Eugene Koonin.
PMCID: PMC3224940  PMID: 19706177

Results 1-3 (3)