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: Scientists gain unique insight into the function of a key muscle protein

Related Stories

The origins of polarized nervous systems

Mar 03, 2015

(Phys.org)—There is no mistaking the first action potential you ever fired. It was the one that blocked all the other sperm from stealing your egg. After that, your spikes only got more interesting. Waves ...

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 ...

Study shows how chimpanzees share skills

Sep 30, 2014

Evidence of new behaviour being adopted and transmitted socially from one individual to another within a wild chimpanzee community is publishing on September 30 in the open access journal PLOS Biology. This i ...

Recommended for you

Avoid 'crape murder' with limited pruning

2 hours ago

Efforts to prevent people from committing "crape murder" are reducing the number of unsightly, knobby-knuckled branch ends but may leave people wondering how to correctly shape crape myrtles.

Secret life of penguins revealed

2 hours ago

To mark World Penguin Day (25 April 2015) citizen science project Penguin Watch will release 500,000 new images of penguins and reveal secrets from a year of spying on penguins. ...

User comments : 0

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.