Research on the genome of a marine creature led by scientists at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego is shedding new light on a key area of the tree of life.
Linda Holland, a research biologist at Scripps Oceanography, and her colleagues from the United States, Europe and Asia, have deciphered and analyzed fundamental elements of the genetic makeup of a small, worm-like marine animal called amphioxus, also known as a lancelet.
Amphioxus is not widely known to the general public, but is gaining interest in scientific circles because of its position as one of the closest living invertebrate relatives of vertebrates. Although amphioxus split from vertebrates more than 520 million years ago, its genome holds tantalizing clues about evolution.
The research led by Holland is published in the July issue of the journal Genome Research. A corresponding research paper is published in the June 19 issue of Nature.
Holland and her colleagues studied the genes of the amphioxus species Branchiostoma floridae through samples obtained in recent years during field work off Tampa, Fla.
Because amphioxus is evolving slowlyits body plan remains similar to that of fossils from the Cambrian timethe animal serves as an intriguing comparison point for tracing how vertebrates have evolved and adapted. This includes new information about how vertebrates have employed old genes for new functions.
"We are finding that today's complicated vertebrate has not invented a lot of new genes to become complicated," said Holland, of the Marine Biology Research Division at Scripps Oceanography. "Amphioxus shows us that vertebrates have taken old genes and recombined them, changed their regulation and perhaps changed the gene function."
Originally discovered in the 1700s, amphioxus appears fish-like with a small tail fin and medial fins, but no paired ones. They spend most of their time burrowe
|Contact: Mario Aguilera|
University of California - San Diego