Common elements of eumetazoan gene organization in an anemone

We now have a draft of the sea anemone genome, and it is revealing tantalizing details of metazoan evolution. The subject is the starlet anemone, Nematostella vectensis, a beautiful little animal that is also an up-and-coming star of developmental biology research.

(click for larger image)

Nematostella development. a. unfertilized egg (~200 micron diameter) with sperm head; b. early cleavage stage; c. blastula; d. gastrula; e. planula; f. juvenile polyp; g. adult stained with DAPI to show nematocysts with a zoom in on the tentacle in the inset; h, i. confocal images of a tentacle bud stage and a gastrula respectively showing nuclei (red) and actin (green); j. a gastrula showing snail mRNA(purple) in the endoderm and forkhead mRNA (red) in the pharynx and endoderm; k. a gastrula showing Anthox8 mRNA expression; l. an adult Nematostella.

A most important reason for this work is that the anemone Nematostella is a distant relative of many of the animals that have already been sequenced, and so provides an essential perspective on the evolutionary changes that we observe in those other organisms. Comparison of its genome with that of other metazoans is helping us decipher the likely genetic organization of the last common ancestor of all animals.

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