An historic fish, with an intriguing past, now has had its genome sequenced, providing a wealth of information on the genetic changes that accompanied the adaptation from an aquatic environment to land. A team of international researchers led by Chris Amemiya, PhD, Director of Molecular Genetics at the Benaroya Research Institute at Virginia Mason (BRI) and Professor of Biology at the University of Washington, will publish "The African coelacanth genome provides insights into tetrapod evolution" April 18 as the cover article in Nature. The coelacanth genome was sequenced by the Genome Center at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, and analyzed by an international consortium of experts.
Sequencing the coelacanth genome has been a long-sought goal and a major logistical milestone, says Dr. Amemiya. He and scientists throughout the world have campaigned for sequencing of the fish for over a decade. "Analysis of changes in the genome during vertebrate adaptation to land has implicated key genes that may have been involved in evolutionary transitions," he says. These include those regulating immunity, nitrogen excretion and the development of fins, tail, ear, eye, and brain as well as those involved in sensing of odorants. The coelacanth genome will serve as a blueprint for better understanding tetrapod evolution.
"This is just the beginning of many analyses on what the coelacanth can teach us about the emergence of land vertebrates, including humans, and, combined with modern empirical approaches, can lend insights into the mechanisms that have contributed to major evolutionary innovations," says Dr. Amemiya.
The coelacanth is critical to study because it is one of only two living lobe-finned fish groups that represent deep and evolutionarily informative lineages with respect to the land vertebrates. The other is the lungfish, which has an enormous genome that currently makes it impractical to sequence. The lobe-finned fishe
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