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5 December 2013 11:26 am ,
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An animal rights group known as the Nonhuman Rights Project filed lawsuits in three New York courts this week in an...
Researchers have been hot on the trail of the elusive Denisovans, a type of ancient human known only by their DNA and...
Thousands of scientists in the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) are about to lose their jobs as a result of the...
Dyslexia, a learning disability that hinders reading, hasn't been associated with deficits in vision, hearing, or...
Exotic, elusive, and dangerous, snakes have fascinated humankind for millennia. They can be hard to find, yet their...
Researchers have sequenced and analyzed the first two snake genomes, which represent two evolutionary extremes. The...
Snake venoms are remarkably complex mixtures that can stun or kill prey within minutes. But more and more researchers...
At age 30, Dutch biologist Freek Vonk has built up a respectable career as a snake scientist. But in his home country,...
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Coral Harbor 'Vertebrate' Genes
15 December 2003 (All day)
An ancient reef coral turns out to have more in common with humans than anyone would have thought. The colorful cnidarians share genes with humans that are absent from fruit flies and roundworms, two well-known evolutionary intermediates. The findings upend scientists' assumption that vertebrates developed unique genes to deal with more complex body systems long after an evolutionary split from invertebrates.
Because dozens of mammalian genes have no counterparts in flies or worms, scientists thought that these particular DNA codes had made their debut in vertebrate animals. To test this hypothesis, David Miller, a geneticist at James Cook University in Queensland, Australia, and colleagues compared DNA snippets from the primordial coral, Acropora millepora, to humans, flies, and worms. To their surprise, the coral shared 11% of the 1376 stretches of DNA sampled with humans--but not with flies and worms. Conversely, only 1% of the coral genes were shared exclusively with flies and worms, Miller and colleagues report in the 16 December issue of Current Biology.
In humans, many of the genes shared with coral are involved in complex functions such as early neural development. What the coral do with their versions of these genes is a mystery. Although coral boast vibrant colors and intricate outer coatings, the creatures are only made up of a few tissue types. "I find it very surprising that such a morphologically simple organism has many of the genes that we associate with complex patterning," Miller says.
The findings suggest that many of the genes once considered unique to vertebrates weren't invented by vertebrates after all, Miller says. Genes like the ones shared by humans and coral may have gotten booted out of the fly and worm genomes as the organisms were faced with pressure to maintain a small genome, the team speculates. Indeed, other researchers have found that a streamlined genetic makeup is an advantage for fly embryos during early development.
"I think [this study is] another example of how our anthropocentric tendencies can lead us astray," says Danny Brower, a geneticist at the University of Arizona in Tucson. Scientists also have to remember, he notes, that the flies and worms favored by geneticists for lab studies have changed over time and may sometimes be deceptive.