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The most genes in an animal? Tiny crustacean holds the record

mental risks to humans," Klaunig said. "Daphnia is an exquisite aquatic sensor, a potential high-tech and modern version of the mineshaft canary."

"With knowledge of its genome, and using both field sampling and laboratory studies, the possible effects of environmental agents on cellular and molecular processes can be resolved and linked to similar processes in humans."

The scientists learned that of all sequenced invertebrate genomes so far, Daphnia shares the most genes with humans.

Daphnia's gene expression patterns change depending on its environment, and the patterns indicate what state its cells are in.

A water flea bobbing in water containing a chemical pollutant will tune-up or tune-down a suite of genes differently than its sisters accustomed to water without the pollutant, for example.

The health effects of most industrially produced compounds in the environment are unknown, because current testing procedures are too slow, too costly, and unable to indicate the causes for their effects on animals, including humans.

Over the course of the project, the Daphnia Genomics Consortium has grown from a handful of founding members to more than 450 investigators around the globe.

"Assembling so many experts around a shared research goal is no small feat," said Peter Cherbas, director of the CGB. "The genome project signals the coming-of-age of Daphnia as a research tool for investigating the molecular underpinnings of key ecological and environmental problems."

Colbourne agreed, adding, "New model systems rarely arrive on the scene with such clear and important roles to play in advancing a new field of science."


Contact: Cheryl Dybas
National Science Foundation

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