The genomic sequence of this large "hollow-spined" fish, which populates deep-sea volcanic caves, could hold valuable clues for biologists studying the evolution of vertebrate species. Coelacanths were believed to have been extinct until a live specimen was discovered in 1938 off the coast of South Africa. Both of the known coelacanth species that survive today, Latimeria chalumnae and Latimeria menadoensis, are anatomically similar to their fossil relatives. Furthermore, coelacanths have exhibited little morphological change since their emergence during the Devonian period approximately 360 million years ago.
To date, complete genomic sequences for more than 200 organisms have been obtained, and hundreds more are currently in progress (www.genomesonline.org). These efforts will enable scientists to perform detailed comparisons of the complete genetic codes from multiple species, identifying the sequence changes that contributed to evolutionary adaptation and speciation. Although a wide assortment of species have been chosen for sequencing, ranging from lampreys to armadillos (www.genome.gov/12511858), Myers observed: "We're missing an organism that could really shed light on the emergence of land vertebrates. We don't know what genomic changes accompanied the transition from water to land, and a coelacanth genome could help identify those events."
The coelacanth is one of only two living taxa to occupy the critical, highly informative phylogenetic position between ray-finned fishes and tetrapods. Fleshy, lobed fins, which ar
Contact: Maria A. Smit
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory