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Sponges help scientists unravel the 700 million year old mystery of evolution



Sponges help scientists unravel the 700 million year old mystery of evolution

Dr. Emily Wong and Associate Professor Mathias Francois. Image provider: Victor Chang Institute of Cardiology

A jelly-like sponge has helped unravel an elusive part of the human genome that has implications for biomedical research and health care.


Australian scientists have discovered that humans, and most likely the entire animal kingdom, share an important genetic mechanism with a jelly-like sponge from the Great Barrier Reef.

Published in Science Today, research shows that some elements of the human genome ̵

1; the complete set of DNA of an organism – are acting in a similar way to prehistoric sponges. This mechanism – which promotes gene expression, the key to species diversity throughout the animal kingdom – has thus been preserved through 700 million years of evolution.

UNSW scientist Dr Emily Wong, from the Victor Chang Institute of Cardiology, says it’s important to unravel a mystery about this degree.

“This is a fundamental discovery in evolution and understanding genetic diseases that we never imagined would be possible. In the beginning it was a too far-fetched idea, but we have nothing to lose so we have started doing it, “said Dr Wong.

“We collected sponge samples from Great Barrier Reef, near Herron Island. At the University of Queensland we extracted DNA samples from the sponge and injected it into a single cell from fish embryo. zebra. Then, we repeated the procedure at the Victor Chang Institute of Cardiology with hundreds of embryos, inserting tiny DNA samples from humans and mice. “

Dr Wong said despite the lack of similarity between sponges and humans due to millions of years of evolution, the team has identified a similar set of genomic instructions for controlling gene expression in both births. object.

“We were blown away by the results,” said Dr. Wong.

According to the scientists, the parts of DNA responsible for controlling gene expression are notoriously difficult to find, study, and understand. Although they make up a significant portion of the human genome, researchers are only just beginning to learn about this genetic “dark matter”.

“We are interested in an important class of these regions called ‘enhancers’,” said Dr. Wong.

“Trying to find these regions based solely on genomic sequence is like finding a light switch in a pitch black room. And that’s why, up until now, there hasn’t been one. What are examples of DNA sequence enhancers found to be preserved throughout the animal kingdom.

“We still have a long way to go to understand how DNA correctly shapes health and disease patterns, but our work is an important step in that direction.”

Working with Dr. Wong is the husband and co-author of the paper, Associate Professor Mathias Francois from Centenary Institute.

“This work is incredibly interesting because it allows us to ‘read’ and better understand the human genome, this is an extremely complex and ever-changing guide to life,” A / Professor said. Francois. The team focused on an ancient gene that is important in our nervous system but it also produces a gene that is important in heart development. “

This finding will also boost biomedical research and future health care benefits, he said. “Being able to better interpret the human genome gives us a better understanding of human processes, including diseases and disorders, many of which have genetic basis. The more we know about it. the way we connect genes, the more likely we are to develop new treatments for the disease. “

There is so much information stored in the genome that we still don’t fully understand, says Marcel Dinger, Professor and Head of the Department of Biotechnology and Biological Molecular Sciences (BABS) at UNSW Science. “This research is an important step towards decoding the programming language of life – the new knowledge it presents will inform future research in the medical and public sectors. technology and the life sciences It is amazing to see such important research being recognized in a journal by one of the most prestigious sciences in the world – which really backs our ambitions to become faculty. The best molecular biology student in Australia. ”


The researchers completed the first chromosome-level sequencing of a freshwater sponge


More information:
ES Wong el al., “Intensive preservation of the enhancer modifier in animals,” Science (Year 2020). Science.sciencemag.org/cgi/doi… 1126 / science.aax8137

N. Harmston el al., “General: Sponges for zebrafish,” Science (Year 2020). Science.sciencemag.org/cgi/doi… 1126 / science.abe9317

Provided by University of New South Wales

Quote: Sponges help scientists unravel the 700-million-year-old evolutionary mystery (2020, November 6) accessed November 7, 2020 from https://phys.org/ news / 2020-11-sea-sponge-scientists-unravel-million -year-old.html

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