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Archive - Feb 25, 2013

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Complete Sequencing of Sea Lamprey Genome Offers Insights into Vertebrate Evolution

When it comes to evolution, humans can learn a thing or two from primeval sea lampreys. In an open-access article published online on February 24, 2013 in Nature Genetics, a team of scientists has presented an assembly of the sea lamprey genome – the first time the entire sequence has been decoded. The data is compelling as the sea lamprey is one of the few ancient, jawless species that has survived through the modern era. The paper not only sheds light on how the venerable invasive species adapted and thrived, but it also provides many insights into the evolution of all vertebrates, species with backbones and spinal cords, a group that includes humans, said Dr. Weiming Li, Michigan State University (MSU) fisheries and wildlife professor, who organized and coordinated the team. “Sea lampreys are amazing survivors,” said Dr. Li, whose teammate, Dr. Jeramiah Smith of the University of Kentucky, led the analysis of the genome assembly. “Even though they diverged from our lineage 500 million years ago, they give us a template of how vertebrates, including humans, evolved into the modern species that we have today.” By serving as a bridge to bygone eras, lamprey DNA also provides pathways to many extinct lineages, thus opening the door to decode many prehistoric species, he added. Based on fossil records, the Cambrian period is cited as a dramatic time when life exploded from single-celled organisms to complex, multi-celled creatures. During this time, many species developed jaws and skeletal frames that protected their brain, spine, and nervous system. Some, in fact, even had brains that shared the same basic structures and functions as modern humans. By mapping the sea lamprey genome, scientists may soon better understand how and when humans evolved.

Scientists Disable Key Ancient Protein in Malaria Parasite

Experts have disabled a unique member of the signalling proteins which are essential for the development of the malaria parasite. They have produced a mutant lacking the ancient Shewanella-like protein phosphatase known as SHLP1 (pronounced 'shelph'). This mutant is unable to complete its complex life cycle and is arrested in its development in the mosquito. The discovery could help in the design of new drugs to arrest the spread of this killer disease. SHLP1 is critical to the cellular development of the malaria parasite. It can be found at every stage in the lifecycle of the malaria parasite and for the first time experts led by scientists at The University of Nottingham have analyzed their biological function. Dr. Rita Tewari and her team in the Centre for Genetics and Genomics in the School of Biology have spent three years studying the phosphatase proteins that are important building blocks in the life cycle of the malaria parasite. The findings of their latest study were published online on February 21, 2013, in Cell Reports. Dr. Tewari said: “SHLP1 is absent in humans and can be explored as an excellent target for malaria transmission control. Prevention of malaria transmission to and from the mosquito is vital in order to stop the devastating spread of malaria. Targeting SHLP1 could be an important step to achieve this goal.” Although great strides have been made in reducing the number of deaths from malaria, half the world’s population remains at risk from the disease. In 2010, 90 per cent of all malaria deaths occurred in Africa — mostly among children under the age of five. Dr.