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Sea Urchin Genome Similar To Man And May Cure Diseases

A research finds that the sea urchin's genome is remarkably similar to that of humans' and may hold the key to preventing and curing several human diseases. //University of Central Florida professor Cristina Calestani and several colleagues have conducted the study and published the results in the November issue of Science.

Sea urchins are small in size and spiny and have no eyes. The sea urchin has been used for many years as a research model to study embryonic development. They eat kelp and algae.

UCF Professor Cristina Calestani was part of the Sea Urchin Genome Sequencing Group, which recently completed sequencing of the sea urchin genome and The National Institutes of Health funded most of the nine-month project. 814 'letters' coding for 23,300 genes compose the genome of the purple sea urchin.

Sea urchins are echinoderms, marine animals that originated more than 540 million years ago. The reason for the great interest in sequencing the sea urchin genome is because it shares a common ancestor with humans.

Sea urchins are closer to human and vertebrates from an evolutionary perspective than other more widely studied animal models, such as fruit fly or worms. The purple sea urchin, in fact, has 7,000 genes in common with humans, including genes associated with Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s diseases and muscular dystrophy.

'Another surprise is that this spiny creature with no eyes, nose or hears has genes involved in vision, hearing and smell in humans,' Calestani said. 'The comparison of human genes with their corresponding ancestral sea urchin genes may give important insight on their function in humans, in the same way the study of history helps understanding the reality of our modern world.'

The genome sequencing project was led by Erica Sodergren and George Weinstock at the Baylor College of Medicine-Human Genome Sequencing Center in Houston, along with Dr. Richard Gibbs, director of
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