A recent "tree of life" study using a brand new technique revealed evolutionary secrets of turtles.

Researchers used a novel genetic sequencing technique called Ultra Conserved Elements (UCE) to reveal turtles' closest relatives in the animal kingdom, the California Academy of Sciences reported. The new wealth of genetic information suggests turtles are in the newly-named group "Archelosauria," meaning they are more closely related to birds and dinosaurs than lizards and snakes.

"Calling this is an exciting new era of sequencing technology is an understatement," said Brian Simison, PhD, Director of the Academy's Center for Comparative Genomics (CCG) that analyzed the study's massive amount of data.

The CCG is a "state-of-the-art facility composed of a sequencing lab, frozen DNA collection, and computing resources that serves as the Academy's core genetic center."

Over the course of only five years genetic sequencing techniques have gone from using only a few genetic markers to over 2,000. These advances dramatically increased the amount of information that can be obtained and is helping to solve a number of genetic mysteries.

The study also revealed that softshell turtles are not linked to a semi-aquatic group called mud turtles, but actually appear in the fossil record before these species.The findings of this study help bring new clarity to turtle mysteries that have been puzzling researchers for decades.

"The turtle tree of life based on fossil turtle anatomy didn't match up with the timing of their appearance in the fossil record, as well as their geography," said study coauthor James Parham, PhD -- Academy Research Associate, Assistant Professor of Geological Sciences at Cal State Fullerton. "But the tree of life generated at the Academy's CCG is consistent with time and space patterns we've gathered from the fossil record. These new testing techniques help reconcile the information from DNA and fossils, making us confident that we've found the right tree."

The findings were published in a recent edition of the journal Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution.