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Sea anemone genome provides new view of our multi-celled ancestors

Berkeley -- The first analysis of the genome of the sea anemone shows it to be nearly as complex as the human genome, providing major insights into the common ancestor of not only humans and sea anemones, but of nearly all multi-celled animals.

"We are looking close to the base of the animal tree of life," said Daniel Rokhsar, faculty member in the University of California, Berkeley's Center for Integrative Genomics and head of a team reporting the analysis in the July 6 issue of Science. " What was the common ancestor of all animals like" What did it eat" Did it have muscles" a brain" Comparing genomes is a way of looking back in time to infer features of the ancestral genetic blueprint for animals."

According to Rokhsar, program head for computational genomics at the Department of Energy's Joint Genome Institute (JGI) in Walnut Creek, Calif., and UC Berkeley professor of genetics, the analysis of the genome allowed the team "to compare the sea anemone with other animals and see what the genome of their last common ancestor looked like, even though such creatures have been extinct for 600 or 700 million years."

The genome of the starlet sea anemone - Nematostella vectensis, a delicate, few-inch-long animal in the form of a transparent, multi-tentacled tube - was sequenced at JGI as part of its Community Sequencing Program. The raw sequence has been available to scientists on the Internet for the past year. The anemone burrows in the mud in brackish water along the east and west coasts of the United States and in the British Isles, and is becoming an increasingly important model system for the study of development, evolution, genomics, reproductive biology and ecology, thanks in large part to the urging of late marine biologist and UC Berkeley zoology professor Cadet Hand Jr.

All animals comprised of more than one cell are lumped together as "metazoan." But scientists usually distinguish between the sponges - strange animal
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Contact: Robert Sanders
rsanders@berkeley.edu
510-643-6998
University of California - Berkeley
5-Jul-2007


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