New research shows that a burst of evolutionary innovation in the genes responsible for electrical communication among nerve cells in our brains occurred over 600 million years ago in a common ancestor of humans and the sea anemone. The research, led by Timothy Jegla, an assistant professor of biology at Penn State University, shows that many of these genes, which when mutated in humans can lead to neurological disease, first evolved in the common ancestor of people and a group of animals called cnidarians, which includes jellyfish, coral, and sea anemones. A paper describing the research is scheduled to be posted online in the Early Edition (EE) of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America sometime during the week beginning February 16, 2015.
Credit: Steve Rupp, National Science Foundation
In addition to Jegla, the research team at Penn State includes graduate students Xiaofan Li, Hansi Liu, and Bishoy Hanna; undergraduate students Fortunay Diatta, Sarah Rhodes, Liana Trigg, Jessica Sassic, and Jose Chu-Luo; Research Associate Damian van Rossum; and Associate Professor of Biology Monica Medina. Professor Mark Q. Martindale and Graduate Student David Simmons from the Whitney Laboratory for Marine Bioscience at the University of Florida and Research Associate Andriy Anishkin at the University of Maryland, also contributed to the study.