Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Clues to nervous system evolution found in nerve-less sponge

Date:
June 18, 2012
Source:
University of California - Santa Barbara
Summary:
Scientists have turned to the simple sponge to find clues about the evolution of the complex nervous system and found that, but for a mechanism that coordinates the expression of genes that lead to the formation of neural synapses, sponges and the rest of the animal world may not be so distant after all.

The genes of Amphimedon queenslandica, a marine sponge native to the Great Barrier Reef, Australia, have been fully sequenced, allowing the researchers to monitor gene expression for signs of neural development.
Credit: UCSB

UC Santa Barbara scientists turned to the simple sponge to find clues about the evolution of the complex nervous system and found that, but for a mechanism that coordinates the expression of genes that lead to the formation of neural synapses, sponges and the rest of the animal world may not be so distant after all. Their findings, titled "Functionalization of a protosynaptic gene expression network," are published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Related Articles


"If you're interested in finding the truly ancient origins of the nervous system itself, we know where to look," said Kenneth Kosik, Harriman Professor of Neuroscience Research in the Department of Molecular, Cellular & Developmental Biology, and co-director of UCSB's Neuroscience Research Institute.

That place, said Kosik, is the evolutionary period of time when virtually the rest of the animal kingdom branched off from a common ancestor it shared with sponges, the oldest known animal group with living representatives. Something must have happened to spur the evolution of the nervous system, a characteristic shared by creatures as simple as jellyfish and hydra to complex humans, according to Kosik.

A previous sequencing of the genome of the Amphimedon queenslandica -- a sponge that lives in Australia's Great Barrier Reef -- showed that it contained the same genes that lead to the formation of synapses, the highly specialized characteristic component of the nervous system that sends chemical and electrical signals between cells. Synapses are like microprocessors, said Kosik explaining that they carry out many sophisticated functions: They send and receive signals, and they also change behaviors with interaction -- a property called "plasticity."

"Specifically, we were hoping to understand why the marine sponge, despite having almost all the genes necessary to build a neuronal synapse, does not have any neurons at all," said the paper's first author, UCSB postdoctoral researcher Cecilia Conaco, from the UCSB Department of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology (MCDB) and Neuroscience Research Institute (NRI). "In the bigger scheme of things, we were hoping to gain an understanding of the various factors that contribute to the evolution of these complex cellular machines."

This time the scientists, including Danielle Bassett, from the Department of Physics and the Sage Center for the Study of the Mind, and Hongjun Zhou and Mary Luz Arcila, from NRI and MCDB, examined the sponge's RNA (ribonucleic acid), a macromolecule that controls gene expression. They followed the activity of the genes that encode for the proteins in a synapse throughout the different stages of the sponge's development.

"We found a lot of them turning on and off, as if they were doing something," said Kosik. However, compared to the same genes in other animals, which are expressed in unison, suggesting a coordinated effort to make a synapse, the ones in sponges were not coordinated.

"It was as if the synapse gene network was not wired together yet," said Kosik. The critical step in the evolution of the nervous system as we know it, he said, was not the invention of a gene that created the synapse, but the regulation of preexisting genes that were somehow coordinated to express simultaneously, a mechanism that took hold in the rest of the animal kingdom.

The work isn't over, said Kosik. Plans for future research include a deeper look at some of the steps that lead to the formation of the synapse; and a study of the changes in nervous systems after they began to evolve.

"Is the human brain just a lot more of the same stuff, or has it changed in a qualitative way?" he asked.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of California - Santa Barbara. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University of California - Santa Barbara. "Clues to nervous system evolution found in nerve-less sponge." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 18 June 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/06/120618153745.htm>.
University of California - Santa Barbara. (2012, June 18). Clues to nervous system evolution found in nerve-less sponge. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 25, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/06/120618153745.htm
University of California - Santa Barbara. "Clues to nervous system evolution found in nerve-less sponge." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/06/120618153745.htm (accessed October 25, 2014).

Share This



More Plants & Animals News

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Deep Sea 'mushroom' Could Be Early Branch on Tree of Life

Deep Sea 'mushroom' Could Be Early Branch on Tree of Life

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Oct. 24, 2014) Miniature deep sea animals discovered off the Australian coast almost three decades ago are puzzling scientists, who say the organisms have proved impossible to categorise. Academics at the Natural History of Denmark have appealed to the world scientific community for help, saying that further information on Dendrogramma enigmatica and Dendrogramma discoides could answer key evolutionary questions. Jim Drury has more. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Black Bear Cub Goes Sunday Shopping

Black Bear Cub Goes Sunday Shopping

Reuters - Light News Video Online (Oct. 23, 2014) Price check on honey? Bear cub startles Oregon drugstore shoppers. Rough Cut (no reporter narration). Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Dances With Wolves in China's Wild West

Dances With Wolves in China's Wild West

AFP (Oct. 23, 2014) One man is on a mission to boost the population of wolves in China's violence-wracked far west. The animal - symbol of the Uighur minority there - is under threat with a massive human resettlement program in the region. Duration: 00:41 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Breakfast Debate: To Eat Or Not To Eat?

Breakfast Debate: To Eat Or Not To Eat?

Newsy (Oct. 23, 2014) Conflicting studies published in the same week re-ignited the debate over whether we should be eating breakfast. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins