[20-06-2008 to 25-07-2008]
Ancient Ancestor Gives Insight Into Evolution
A small marine animal that spends most of its life buried in the sand is unwittingly helping scientists understand the evolution of humans.
The tiny creature is enabling scientists at the University of St Andrews to piece together the ancestral starting point from which it and humans evolved, despite this ancestor having lived 550 million years ago.
The St Andrews’ researchers are part of an international team that has successfully sequenced the genome of the Florida lancelet, a 4cm long invertebrate said to resemble a filleted anchovy.
The new study of the lancelet (or amphioxus, Branchiostoma floridae), provides a major advance in understanding the evolution of humans and their fellow vertebrates. A close relative of backbone possessing vertebrates, amphioxus provides deeper understanding of the crucial steps in the evolution of vertebrate and human genomes.
Dr David Ferrier of the Gatty Marine Laboratory at St Andrews led the Scottish team within the international network of researchers that made the precise organisation of the invertebrate’s genome clear for the first time. The genome was sequenced at the Joint Genome Institute in the US, while Dr Ferrier’s group analysed specific parts of the genome responsible for controlling important aspects of animal developmental biology.
Dr Ferrier said, "The amphioxus genome sequence - the genetic material encoded by the organisms' DNA - provides an important insight into how the group of animals that contains humans, birds and fish evolved.
The St Andrews research is funded by the BBSRC (Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council) and published in the current issue of Nature and online at Genome Research.
see here for further details
contact: Dr Dave Ferrier