Stanford, CAGenes of a tiny, single-celled green alga called Chlamydomonas reinhardtii may contain scores more data about the common ancestry of plants and animals than the richest paleontological dig. This work is described in an article in the October 12, 2007, issue of Science.
A group of researchers*, including Arthur Grossman of the Carnegie Institution, report on the results of a major effort to obtain the full library of genes, or the genome sequence, of Chamydomonas and to compare its ~15,000 genes to those of plants and animals, including humans. The research shows that this alga has maintained many genes that were lost during the evolution of land plants, has others that are associated with functions in humans, and has numerous genes of unknown function, but which are associated with critical metabolic processes.
Although Chlamydomonas is certainly more plant than animal, there are clear similarities between this photosynthetic organism and animals that would surprise the average person on the street, comments Grossman. Just twenty years ago no one would have guessed that an alga would have retained many of the functions we associate with humans and would be useful for developing a basic understanding of certain human diseases.
Chlamydomonas, affectionately called Chlamy, is an alga of 10 micrometres in size that is present in soil and freshwater environments. It performs photosynthesis like plants, but it diverged evolutionarily from flowering land plants about 1 billion years ago. It is even more distantly related to animals (the split between animals and plants was ~1.6 billion years ago). Chlamy moves using two anterior, hair-like flagella that were lost by its cousins, the flowering land plants, after the evolutionary split of the two lineages. The flagella are equivalent to the cilia and centrioles in animal cells. Centrioles are structures involved in cell division; they form a spindle apparatus, which helps separa
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