Researchers in Australia say a jelly-like sea sponge found along the Great Barrier Reef could provide clues about an elusive part of the human DNA. Their newly released study, which looks at 700 million years of evolution, concludes that elements of the human genome, what scientists describe as “an incredibly complex and ever-changing instruction manual of life,” work in the same way as the genome of the prehistoric sea sponge.
Researchers at the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute in Sydney say that while the DNA of humans and these simple, yet highly adaptable aquatic invertebrates are not similar, they do share a comparable set of instructions that control how information contained in a gene is decoded and used. The scientists believe these genetic links have been preserved across millions of years of evolution.
Lead researcher Emily Wong said the new study has allowed them to better “read” and understand how our genetic library works.
“We focused on sequences in the genome called enhancers, and they are responsible for switching on and off genes,” she said. “We found that similar sequences are deeply conserved all the way from humans to sea sponges. So, that is over 700 million years of evolution. We are really excited about this discovery because it is the first time that such a deeply conserved enhancer has been discovered.”
Long before the dinosaurs, the sea sponge was one of the species that dominated life on Earth.
The researchers believe that it is not only people that share a genetic link to sea sponges, but most likely the entire animal kingdom.
The study could have implications for biomedical advances and health care.
A senior researcher said, “the more we know about how our genes are wired, the better we are able to develop new treatments for diseases.”
The academic work was a collaboration between various Australian universities and research organizations and has been published in the journal Science.