Here we use a novel bayesian comparative method to show that bone-cell size correlates well with genome size in extant vertebrates, and hence use this relationship to estimate the genome sizes of 31 species of extinct dinosaur, including several species of extinct birds.
Haploid genome size (mean of posterior predictive distribution) mapped onto a phylogeny shows a reduction within saurischian dinosaurs, the lineage to which birds belong.
Our results indicate that the small genomes typically associated with avian flight evolved in the saurischian dinosaur lineage between 230 and 250 million years ago, long before this lineage gave rise to the first birds.
By comparison, ornithischian dinosaurs are inferred to have had much larger genomes, which were probably typical for ancestral Dinosauria.
Bar graph of interspersed repetitive elements in a range of extant vertebrate species and extinct dinosaur species inferred from genome size reconstructions and the correlation between repetitive element composition and genome size.
Using comparative genomic data, we estimate that genome-wide interspersed mobile elements, a class of repetitive DNA, comprised 5–12% of the total genome size in the saurischian dinosaur lineage, but was 7–19% of total genome size in ornithischian dinosaurs, suggesting that repetitive elements became less active in the saurischian lineage.
These genomic characteristics should be added to the list of attributes previously considered avian but now thought to have arisen in non-avian dinosaurs, such as feathers, pulmonary innovations, and parental care and nesting.
Read the press release. More from Nature News.