Scientists from across Australia are soaking in a discovery that links humans and other animals to a species of sponge — over a period of 700 million years.
They say they’re “blown away” by the breakthrough discovery of genetic “dark matter” after squaring the genes of a sponge bobbing in the Great Barrier Reef and finding that we share important genetic mechanisms with it.
The team collected sea sponge samples at The University of Queensland’s Heron Island Research Station, before extracting DNA samples and injecting them into hundreds of animal embryos, inserting small amounts of DNA from humans and mice as well.
They found that despite a lack of similarity between sponge and human DNA, a similar set of genomic instructions that control gene expression in both organisms was identified.
The project brought together researchers from bodies including The University of Queensland (UQ), UNSW Sydney, Monash University, The University of Melbourne and The University of Sydney.
UQ’s Professor Bernie Degnan said some elements of the human genome – an organism’s complete set of DNA – was found to function in the same way as the sponge.
“Incredibly, these elements have been preserved across 700 million years of evolution,” Professor Degnan said.
“It’s an important piece of a puzzle over many millions of years, and will feed into future research studies across the medical, technology and life sciences fields,” he said.
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