New understanding of where animals came from

  • Date

    Mon 30 Apr 18

Dr Jordi Paps

Evolutionary scientists have uncovered the genetic secrets of the moment, hundreds of millions of years ago, when single-cell life forms started evolving into animals.

Their analysis of the first animal genome sheds new light on the way animals emerged on Earth according to Dr Jordi Paps, from our School of Life Sciences.

His paper, co-authored with Peter Holland from the Department of Zoology at the University of Oxford, is published this month in Nature Communications.

Dr Paps compared a large number of genome sequences from species living today and using newly developed computational methods extrapolated back in time to reconstruct the first animal genome and find out what was so special about it.

As well as an explosion of new genes, discovered in the first animal, but not seen in other groups, their findings also identify genes never associated before with the origins of animals.
He said: “We found that the first animal genome had an unprecedented number of new genes compared to other ancestors and that these play essential roles in animal biology.

“Many of the new genes act to switch other genes ‘on’ or ‘off’, some regulate how cells divide or stick together, and some have functions related to the nervous system. We knew before that new genes arise and vanish during the evolution of organisms, but this is the first time a study has shown an extraordinary number of new genes in the first animal genome. This demonstrates changes in the genes were as important as external factors in the way animals developed. This changes our view of how all animals evolved and came to be,” said Dr Paps