New research touches a nerve

August 20, 2008

University of Queensland researchers have traced the origins of one of the most important steps in animal evolution – the development of nerves.

Professor Bernie Degnan, from UQ's School of Integrative Biology, together with PhD student Gemma Richards and colleagues from France, have traced the evolution of the nerve cell by looking for pre-cursors in, of all places, the marine sponge.

"Sponges have one of the most ancient lineages and don't have nerve cells," Professor Degnan said.

"So we are pretty confident it was after the sponges split from trunk of the tree of life and sponges went one way and animals developed from the other, that nerves started to form.

"What we found in sponges though were the building blocks for nerves, something we never expected to find."

Professor Degnan said the science involved came from the relatively new area of paleogenomics, which is the study of ancestral genomes to paint a more accurate picture of animal evolution.

"What we have done is try to find the molecular building blocks of nerves, or what may be called the nerve's ancestor the proto-neuron," he said.

"We found sets of these genes in sponges, when we really didn't expect it.

"But what was really cool is we took some of these genes and expressed them in frog and flies and the sponge gene became functional – the sponge gene directed the formation of nerves in these more complex animals.

Source: Research Australia

Related Stories

Recommended for you

CERN collides heavy nuclei at new record high energy

November 25, 2015

The world's most powerful accelerator, the 27 km long Large Hadron Collider (LHC) operating at CERN in Geneva established collisions between lead nuclei, this morning, at the highest energies ever. The LHC has been colliding ...

New gene map reveals cancer's Achilles heel

November 25, 2015

Scientists have mapped out the genes that keep our cells alive, creating a long-awaited foothold for understanding how our genome works and which genes are crucial in disease like cancer.

Study suggests fish can experience 'emotional fever'

November 25, 2015

(—A small team of researchers from the U.K. and Spain has found via lab study that at least one type of fish is capable of experiencing 'emotional fever,' which suggests it may qualify as a sentient being. In their ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.