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  A. New Genetic Analysis Shakes Up Salamanders' Family Tree

Narrator: This is Science Today. A new, genetic analysis of the largest family of salamanders has pretty much shaken their family tree. Rachel Mueller, a graduate student of Integrative Biology at the University of California, Berkeley, says the Plethodontid salamanders, a lungless group that breathes through their skin, make up two-thirds of the world’s known species of salamanders.

Mueller: They’ve been studied quite a bit and all the studies about them have assumed that we knew sort of the four major groups of Plethodontids salamanders. So, not only who was in each group, but also how those groups were related to each other. And those relationships were based primarily on bone data – so we thought we’d just double check that bone data with genetic data.

Narrator: Mueller sequenced genetic data of these salamanders at the UC-operated Joint Genome Institute, which played a big part in helping decode the human genome.

Mueller: We ended up finding that actually three out of the four groups weren’t actually groups at all. So, it definitely is a hint that in many cases, we’re underestimating greatly the biodiversity in species where we haven’t looked at them genetically just because they look very similar to one another.

Narrator: For Science Today, I’m Larissa Branin.