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Analysis of Sea Anemone Genome Opens Window on Early Animal Development

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) — Scientists have analyzed the genome of a sea anemone and said their research will offer insights into the ascent of multi-celled animals, according to the study, which appears in this week’s Science.
The genome of the starlet sea anemone, or Nematostella vectensis, was sequenced by the Joint Genome Institute and was found to have around 18,000 genes, compared to 20,000 in humans.
In addition, many of the animal’s genes rest on 30 chromosomes in patterns that are similar to the patterns of related genes on the human genome’s 46 chromosomes, according to a statement accompanying the study.
The analysis was led by study author Daniel Rokhsar of the Center for Integrative Genomics at the University of California at Berkeley. He is also program head for computational genomics at the Department of Energy's Joint Genome Institute in Walnut Creek, Calif.
According to Nicholas Putnam, the study’s lead author and a postdoctoral fellow at JGI, scientists were surprised to find that the anemone’s genome, although it is classified along with corals as one of the earliest of multi-celled animals, had more in common with the human genome than with those of the roundworm or the fruit fly, two commonly used species.
"Many genes close together in the sea anemone are still close together in
humans, even after six or seven hundred million years," he said.
While this analysis may say something about humans, Putnam and Rokhsar said they see the value of the anemone being what it offers to early animal evolution studies, particularly by opening a window into early animal development and behavior.
"We are looking close to the base of the animal tree of life," said Rokhsar. “What was the common ancestor of all animals like? What did it eat? Did it have muscles? A brain?” Rokhsar asked.