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Centenary Institute - Medical Research
Centenary Institute - Medical Research

How the humble sea sponge helped scientists unravel a 700 million-year-old mystery of evolution

In a momentous breakthrough, Australian scientists have found that humans, and most likely the entire animal kingdom, share important genetic mechanisms with a jelly-like sea sponge that comes from the Great Barrier Reef.

Published in one of the most prestigious journals ‘Science’, the breakthrough reveals that some elements of the human genome (an organism’s complete set of DNA) are functioning in the same way as the prehistoric sea sponge. Incredibly this means it has been preserved across 700 million years of evolution. This mechanism drives gene expression, which is key to species diversity across the animal kingdom.

The findings are a fundamental discovery in evolution and the understanding of genetic diseases, and will help drive future biomedical research activities.

Read the full story here.

Pictured: Co-senior author on the paper, Associate Professor Mathias Francois from the Centenary Institute (left) and lead author, Dr Emily Wong from the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute (right).

Publication: Early origin and deep conservation of enhancers in animals.