Genome Research is publishing several papers related to analyses of the amphioxus (Branchiostoma floridae) genome sequence. The amphioxus, or lancelet, is a cephalochordate residing in shallow regions of tropical and temperate seas, bearing resemblance to a small fish, however lacking pairs of eyes, limbs, and ears. A member of the chordata phylum along with tunicates (sea squirts) and vertebrates, amphioxus lacks the backbone or spinal column characteristic of vertebrate animals, yet shares the same basic body plan. Amphioxus is therefore an excellent model for investigating how vertebrates evolved from an invertebrate ancestor. Now, researchers are finding that the amphioxus genome sequence is revealing new insights into vertebrate origins and the evolution of complex biological systems, such as immunity and nervous system development. Primary research reports describing these novel findings will be published online June 19, concurrent with publication of the amphioxus genome sequence report in the journal Nature.
1. Primitive pre-vertebrates are still evolving
To investigate the origins of vertebrates and other features of cephalochordate biology, a team of researchers led by Dr. Linda Holland of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography searched the amphioxus genome for specific genes, gene families, and DNA elements that could shed light on
chordate biology and evolution. The analysis identified a number of features of amphioxus that are conserved with vertebrates, as well as some that are unique. In addition to new insights on development, cell signaling, immunity, and endocrine systems, Holland and colleagues identified several DNA regulatory elements conserved between amphioxus and humans. Three conserved elements from two human paralogs and a single amphioxus homolog were all shown to drive gene expression in both amphioxus and the mouse. "This is the widest phylogenetic distance to date over which
|Contact: Peggy Calicchia|
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory