"If you looked at one of these creatures you would say, 'what is all of this excitement about a worm?'" said Richard G. Northcutt, a professor of neurosciences at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, who was not involved in the study. "These are tiny animals that have almost no anatomy, which presents very little for scientists to compare them with. But through genetics, if the analysis is correct and time will tell if it is the study has taken a very bothersome group that scientists are not sure what to do with and says it is related to vertebrates, ourselves and echinoderms (such as starfish).
"The significance of the research is it gives us a better understanding of how animals are related and, by inference, a better understanding of the history of the animals leading to humans," Northcutt said.
Scientists used high-throughput computational tools to reconstruct deep evolutionary relationships, apparently confirming suspicions that three lineages of marine worms and vertebrates are part of a common evolutionary line called "deuterostomes," which share a common ancestor.
"The early evolution of lineages leading to vertebrates, sea stars and acorn worms is much more complex than most people expect because it involves not just gene gain, but enormous gene loss," said Moroz, who is affiliated with the Whitney Laboratory for Marine Bioscience and UF's McKnight Brain Institute. "An alternative, yet unlikely, scenario would be that our common ancestor had a central nervous system, and then just lost it, still remaining a free living organism.
Understanding the complex cellular rearrangements and the origin of animal innovations, such as the brain, is critically important for understanding human development and disease, Moroz said.
"We need to be able to interpret molecular events in the medical field," he said. "Is what's happening in different lineages of neuronal and stem cells, for example
|Contact: John Pastor|
University of Florida