The genomic basis of convergent evolution in modern sloths

The sloth lifestyle of hanging from trees has actually evolved independently two times. The convergent anatomical and physiological changes have an unknown genetics basis. We are triying to understand this by comparing high-quality whole genome sequences from living sloths.

Project details
Duration: since 10/2017
Third-party funded: yes
Involved Department(s): Dept Evolutionary Genetics
Leibniz-IZW Project Leader(s): Camila Mazzoni (Dept Evolutionary Genetics)
Leibniz-IZW Project Team: Marcela Uliano-Silva (Dept Evolutionary Genetics)
Consortium Partner(s): Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics (MPI-CBG), Vertebrate Genomes Project (VGP)
Current Funding Organisation: Marie Sklodowska-Curie Individual Stipendium
Research Foci: Understanding traits and evolutionary adaptations
Although the (only) two extant sloth lineages (Bradypus and Choloepus) are separated by about 30 Mya of evolution, they both have evolved a very specialized feature - the obligatory arboreal suspensory behaviour. This means that sloths hang from tree branches for most of their lives and have undergone a series of changes in their anatomy and physiology that allow this lifestyle. As these body changes have occurred independently in both types of sloths, it represents an extreme example of convergent evolution. In order to investigate the genomic basis of this convergent evolution we will compare whole genome sequences of sloths and other mammals, looking for signs of positive selection. The first step for this study is the sequencing of a high-quality sloth genome, which is performed in partnership with the Vertebrate Genome Project (VGP) within the Genome 10K Consortium.


March 2019: Interview about convergent evolution in sloths to EU Horizon Magazin

August 2019: Interview about sloth biology to BBC

October 20th 2019 (Sloth Day): interview to ARTE used by several types of news in German. Example:,Rf3qIOB

Selected Publications

coming soon