The team led by evolutionary and developmental biologist Ulrich Technau at the University of Vienna discovered that sea anemones display a genomic landscape with a complexity of regulatory elements similar to that of fruit flies or other animal model systems. This suggests, that this principle of gene regulation is already 600 million years old and dates back to the common ancestor of human, fly and sea anemone. On the other hand, sea anemones are more similar to plants rather to vertebrates or insects in their regulation of gene expression by short regulatory RNAs called microRNAs. These surprising evolutionary findings are published in two articles in the journal Genome Research.
Our appearance, the shape we have and how our body works is, in addition to environmental influences, largely the result of the action of our genes. However, genes are rarely single players, they rather act in concert and regulate each other's activity and expression in gene regulatory networks.
Simple organism with complex gene content
In the last decades the sequencing of the human and many animal genomes showed that anatomically simple organisms such as sea anemones depict a surprisingly complex gene repertoire like higher model organisms. This implies, that the difference in morphological complexity cannot be easily explained by the presence or absence of individual genes. Some researchers hypothesized that not the individual genes code for more complex body plans, but how they are wired and linked between each other. Accordingly, researchers expected that these gene networks are less complex in simple organisms than in human or "higher" animals.
A measurement of the complexity of gene regulation could be the distribution and density of regulatory sequences in the genome. These motifs on the DNA called enhancers and promoters can bind transcription factors specifically and often regulate the expression of target gene
|Contact: Ulrich Technau|
University of Vienna