Sponging up the evolutionary past

Apr 27, 2007
Sponging up the evolutionary past
The larvae of the sponge Amphimedon queenslandica expresses similar developmental genes to those in humans.

University of Queensland researchers are exploring the evolution of what has been termed the “Rosetta Stone” of the gene world, by tracing the development of the humble sea sponge.

A team led by Professor Bernie Degnan, from UQ's School of Integrative Biology, has found sea sponges don't have Hox genes – the genes responsible in flies, animals, and even humans, for where the head and bottom should go.

“Sea sponges are basically living fossils and haven't changed since before the Cambrian explosion – the time when most of the major groups of animals first appear,” Professor Degnan said.

“They are one of the simplest animals and yet their genome (their genetic information) is remarkably similar to our own.

“What we have found is as sponges don't have this gene, it must have evolved after sponges split from our evolutionary path, and it corresponds with a big jump in the rise of complex organisms.”

Professor Degnan said the research, published recently in the scientific journal Current Biology, adds another piece of the evolutionary puzzle to how life evolved on Earth.

“Sea sponges are fascinating animals and offer us a window into the past,” he said.

“But they are also showing us a window into the future as they are an immense source of bio-active compounds that could have pharmaceutical and industrial benefits.”

He said one example of potential benefit is being explored by looking at the way sponges develop a glass skeleton.

“They grow this ornate and intricate skeleton which is made out of glass,” he said.

“Their genome encodes the amazing ability to take silica out of sea water and turn it into glass, so we are looking at that for the future environmentally-benign bio-fabrication of glass.

“And other researchers are looking at the sponge for novel drug development.”

He said his team was continuing its research into sponges to further unlock the potential of such a simple yet amazing creature.

Source: University of Queensland

Explore further: Nearly 50 years of lemur data now available online (w/ Video)

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Bees from the inside out

Jul 08, 2014

It is 1,825 miles from New Haven, Conn., to Austin, Tex., which typically means 30 hours of driving and three nights in motels, not an easy trip for anyone. But for researchers moving from Yale University ...

Scientists announce top 10 new species for 2014 (w/ Video)

May 22, 2014

An appealing carnivorous mammal, a 12-meter-tall tree that has been hiding in plain sight and a sea anemone that lives under an Antarctic glacier are among the species identified by the SUNY College of Environmental ...

Paleontologists discover new fossil organism

May 09, 2014

Scientists at the University of California, Riverside have discovered a fossil of a newly discovered organism from the "Ediacara Biota"—a group of organisms that occurred in the Ediacaran period of geologic ...

Largest study of sponges sheds new light on animal evolution

Feb 04, 2014

Sponges are an important animal for marine and freshwater ecology and represent a rich animal diversity found throughout the world, from tropical climates to the arctic poles. For evolutionary biologists, they also present ...

Recommended for you

Study indicates large raptors in Africa used for bushmeat

12 hours ago

Bushmeat, the use of native animal species for food or commercial food sale, has been heavily documented to be a significant factor in the decline of many species of primates and other mammals. However, a new study indicates ...

The microbes make the sake brewery

13 hours ago

A sake brewery has its own microbial terroir, meaning the microbial populations found on surfaces in the facility resemble those found in the product, creating the final flavor according to research published ahead of print ...

Fighting bacteria—with viruses

14 hours ago

Research published today in PLOS Pathogens reveals how viruses called bacteriophages destroy the bacterium Clostridium difficile (C. diff), which is becoming a serious problem in hospitals and healthcare institutes, due to its re ...

User comments : 0