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A simple organism shares genes with humans.

Ana Y. Signorovitch '06PhD

Ana Y. Signorovitch '06PhD

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The pinhead-sized creatures called Trichoplax adhaerens (one appears at left) were discovered clinging to the walls of a saltwater aquarium in the 1880s. The simple, amoeba-like organism, known as a placazoan, is believed to be among the first multicellular animals to evolve, about 600 million years ago.

Yet their DNA is surprisingly complex -- and familiar. Recently, molecular biologist Stephen L. Dellaporta and an international group of collaborators sequenced the T. adhaerens genome. (The study appeared in the August 21 early online edition of Nature.) Although the genome is a fraction the size of our own, with 98 million base pairs versus 3 billion, it has many of the sequences for key genetic pathways and regulatory processes that are common to all animals. In fact, said Dellaporta, "Trichoplax shares over 80 percent of its genes with humans."

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