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Sea Squirt Genome Reveals Cannabinoid Receptor Older Than Believed

NEW YORK, April 1 (GenomeWeb News) - A new examination of a sea squirt genome, which was  sequenced in 2002,  has revealed that the cannabinoid receptor gene exists in an invertebrate.


And no, this is not an April Fool's joke.


Maurice Elphick of Queen Mary University of London was slated to report on this finding today at the annual meeting of the Society for Experimental Biology, which is taking place this week in Heriot-Watt, Edinburgh, Scotland  (You can download the programme here.)


Elphick's finding is significant, according to the SEB, because it means that cannabinoid receptors were present earlier on in evolution than previously believed.


Elphick found that the sea-squirt cannabinoid receptor gene is expressed in tissues outside the nervous system, leading to questions about the role this signaling system plays in invertebrates.

Elphick's  research focuses on the molecular biology and functions of the cannabinoid receptor. Previously, he has demonstrated that the cannabinoid system "is a fundamental signalling system in the central nervous system of vertebrates, where it plays a role in movement, pain, and learning and memory," according to SEB. "In invertebrates such as the sea-squirt, however, the system may have very different functions, perhaps indicating how and why the system evolved in the first place."