August 29, 2008
Origin of Nerves Traced to Sponges
Sponges are very primitive animals. They don't have nerves cells (nor muscles nor eyes nor a lot of other things we commonly associate with animals). So scientists figured sponges split from the tree of life before nerves evolved.
A new study has surprised researchers, however.
In humans and other animals, nerves deliver messages to and from the brain and all the parts of a body.
Degnan and colleagues studied a sea sponge called Amphimedon queenslandica. "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," Degnan said. They found sets of these genes in sponges.
"But what was really cool," he said, "is we took some of these genes and expressed them in frogs and flies and the sponge gene became functional - the sponge gene directed the formation of nerves in these more complex animals.
The research, announced this month, was published in the journal Current Biology.
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