A surprised team of international scientists recently discovered that sea sponges – one of Earth’s oldest life forms – share almost 70 percent of the same genes as human beings.
Yes, according to a study published in the journal Nature, we are not so different from the weird looking sponges.
The team of scientists worked for five years to sequence the genome of the 650-million year old organisms, which was one of the first to develop the special cell groups that characterize organs.
“The sponge represents a window on this ancient and momentous event,” said University of California-Santa Barbara researcher Kenneth S. Kosik in a Natural News story. “Curiously, the cells of a sponge bear little resemblance to cells found in the rest of the animal kingdom. For example, sponges lack neurons; however, the sponge genome reveals the presence of many genes found in neurons.”
It is also significant that many of the genes that sponges share with humans might play a role in the development of cancer.
“Once there is a transition from single cell to multicellular organisms, conflict is set up between the different cells of the multicellular organism,” researcher Todd Oakley said to Natural News.
“It is in an individual cell’s best interest to keep replicating, and this actually is what cancer is – the uncontrolled replication of cells in the body. So in the history of animals, we can see this link with cancer, because the genes that are involved in the transition to multiple cells during evolution are also known to be linked to cancer.”
The recent findings are promising but they are only the beginning pieces in being able to discover new cancer treatments.
“How things interact is what’s more important in biology than just the things that are there,” writes Dawson Church in the book, The Genie in Your Genes: Epigenetic Medicine and the New biology of Intention.
“The genome tells us very little, if anything at all, about how things interact. For biologists, understanding the mechanics of enormously complex self-organizing systems like the human body is a challenge of much greater magnitude than mapping the genome itself,” Church writes.
For now this is a minor discovery, but a very interesting one. The genes of sea sponges might one day help us understand how our own biological systems interact with each other.