Monday, 29 September 2008

News Round

Nematode Genome Provides Insight Into Evolution Of Parasitism

Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology, together with American colleagues, have decoded the genome of the Pristionchus pacificus nematode, thereby gaining insight into the evolution of parasitism.

In their work, which has recently been published in Nature Genetics, the scientists from Professor Ralf J. Sommer's department in Tübingen, Germany, have shown that the genome of the nematode consists of a surprisingly large number of genes, some of which have unexpected functions.

These include a number of genes that are helpful in breaking down harmful substances and for survival in a strange habitat: the Pristionchus uses beetles as a hideout and as means of transport, and feeds on the fungi and bacteria that spread out on their carcasses once they have died. It thus provides the clue to understanding the complex interactions between host and parasite.

With well over a million different species, nematodes are the largest group in the animal kingdom. The worms, usually only just one millimetre in length, are found on all continents and in all ecosystems on Earth. Some, as parasites, are major pathogens to humans, animals and plants. Within the group of nematodes, at least seven forms of parasitism have developed independently from one another. One member of the nematode group has acquired a certain degree of fame: due to its humble lifestyle, small size and quick breeding pattern, Caenorhabditis elegans is one of the most popular animals being used as models in biologists' laboratories. It was the first multicellular animal whose genome was completely decoded in 1998.

From Science Daily.
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Primordial fish had rudimentary fingers

Tetrapods, the first four-legged land animals, are regarded as the first organisms that had fingers and toes. Now researchers at Uppsala University can show that this is wrong. Using medical x-rays, they found rudiments of fingers in the fins in fossil Panderichthys, the "transitional animal," which indicates that rudimentary fingers developed considerably earlier than was previously thought.
Our fish ancestors evolved into the first four-legged animals, tetrapods, 380 million years ago. They are the forerunners of all birds, mammals, crustaceans, and batrachians. Since limbs and their fingers are so important to evolution, researchers have long wondered whether they appeared for the first time in tetrapods, or whether they had evolved from elements that already existed in their fish ancestors.

When they examined genes that are necessary for the evolution of fins in zebrafish (a ray-finned fish that is a distant relative of coelacanth fishes) and compared them with the gene that regulates the development of limbs in mice, researchers found that zebrafish lacked the genetic mechanisms that are necessary for the development of fingers. It was therefore concluded that fingers appeared for the first time in tetrapods. This reading was supported by the circumstance that the fossil Panderichthys, a "transitional animal" between fish and tetrapod, appeared to lack finger rudiments in their fins.

In the present study, to be published in Nature, medical x-rays (CT scans) were used to reconstruct a three-dimensional image of Panderichthys fins. The results show hitherto undiscovered elements that constitute rudiments of fingers in the fins. Similar rudiments have been demonstrated once in the past, two years ago in Tiktaaliks, which is a more tetrapod-like group. Together with information about fin development in sharks, paddlefish, and Australian lungfish, the scientists can now definitively conclude that fingers were not something new in tetrapods.

"This was the key piece of the puzzle that confirms that rudimentary fingers were already present in ancestors of tetrapods," says Catherine Boisvert.

From PhyOrg.

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