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An evolutionary surprise
Date:3/14/2012

als can be very informative in terms of understanding the evolution of vertebrate development and genetics in a way that you wouldn't expect."

But the sea squirt shouldn't worry: it has not been usurped by the acorn worm. "The lancelet and ascidians (sea squirts) will still be the first animals we will look at if we want to understand vertebrate evolution. But if we find differences, we now know it is important to look at anatomically divergent animals, where you wouldn't have previously expected to find compelling similarities," Pani says. "I think this principle applies broadly to understanding animal evolution."

The MBL, where more than 200 different types of marine animals are collected and maintained, has long been a center for comparative studies of evolution and development. "It is a valuable perspective that scientists can now implement in a pretty straightforward way," Pani says. "Because of the advances in gene sequencing and developmental techniques, a lot of researchers are now free to pick an animal in an interesting place (in the evolutionary tree) and pursue research on it at a speed that wasn't possible before. I think that is going to have a really big impact."

Christopher Lowe, Pani's Ph.D. advisor, has been working on hemichordates at MBL since 2002, in collaboration with the labs of John Gerhart, Marc Kirschner, Elena Casey, and Mark Terasaki. "The MBL has been a great place for us to work," Pani says. "There is a lot of expertise on the rearing and spawning of the animals, and we have had a ton of help from staff. Zeiss and Nikon have loaned us equipment at the MBL for years. It's just been a really unique and collaborative environment combining organismal knowledge with high-end technical facilities."


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Contact: Diana Kenney
dkenney@mbl.edu
508-289-7139
Marine Biological Laboratory
Source:Eurekalert  

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