MSU genome research reputation grows, grabs national spotlight

Recent findings that shed new light on ancient and modern connections between dinosaurs, crocodiles and birds have Mississippi State scientists playing important roles as the research moves forward.

By: Jim Laird

Publication of three reports in the Dec. 12 issue of Science describing work of the university researchers is drawing international attention. The investigations focused on the evolution of birds, dinosaurs and their closest living relatives, the Australian saltwater crocodile, American alligator and Indian gharial.

Science, a weekly report by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, is considered the world's leading journal of original research, global news and commentary.

"Comparisons between species were made at the genome/DNA level affording unprecedented insight into how crocodilians and birds have diverged," explained Daniel G. Peterson, director of MSU's Institute for Genomics, Biocomputing and Biotechnology, or IGBB, for short.

The genome is the genetic material of an organism.

The crocodilian genome initiative is led by David Ray, a former MSU assistant professor of biochemistry, molecular biology, plant pathology and entomology who also holds the rank of IGBB Fellow.

The genome research is made possible by a National Science Foundation grant proposed by Peterson and Ray. (For more, see

Ray is senior and corresponding author of the Science article titled "Three crocodilian genomes reveal ancestral patterns of evolution among archosaurs." Peterson and Federico Hoffman, an IGBB researcher and MSU assistant professor of biochemistry, molecular biology, entomology and plant pathology, are co-authors.

A second article dealt with avian evolution made possible through comparative genomics. Titled "Comparative genomics reveals insights into avian genome evolution and adaptation," it is co-authored by Hoffman and Ray.

Ray, now an associate professor of biological sciences at Texas Tech University, wrote the third article, titled "Whole-genome analyses resolve early branches in the tree of life of modern birds." In it, he uses genome-scale analysis to determine the history of modern birds.

Peterson said he and his colleagues take great pride that MSU is "represented on three genome papers in a single issue of Science." He also noted that previously "we have had papers on the genomes of sorghum, cotton, butterfly and green anole publish in Nature, a journal that is every bit as prestigious as Science."

The professor of plant and soil sciences said the string of publications "in two of the highest impact scientific journals illustrates Mississippi State's growing footprint in genomics and computational biology research."

Peterson, who also holds an appointment with the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station, praised the land-grant institution's talented faculty, resources and infrastructure for being instrumental in the research success.

"The depth and scope of our work would not have been possible without the assets of the High Performance Computing Collaboratory on campus," he said.

In addition to MAFES, Peterson also expressed appreciation for the contributions of administrators and colleagues throughout the Division of Agriculture, Forestry and Veterinary Medicine, Office of Research and Economic Development and College of Veterinary Medicine.

For more on the research, contact Peterson at or visit the IGBB website at

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