IBE (CSIC-UPF): The ability to regulate distant genes in the genome, key to the emergence of animals

IBE (CSIC-UPF): The ability to regulate distant genes in the genome, key to the emergence of animals

News from IBE (CSIC-UPF)

One of the unsolved mysteries of evolution is how animals evolved from their unicellular ancestors and what particular mechanisms took part in the development of their complex body plans. Led by researchers of the Institute of Evolutionary Biology (UPF-CSIC), a team has now deciphered the genetic mechanisms responsible for the great evolutionary success of animals. The results, which are published today in the journal Cell, point out that these mechanisms are found in the whole animal kingdom, including animals, but not in their unicellular ancestors.

According to this study, the great innovation that makes animals differ from their unicellular relatives is not the origin of new genes, but distal gene regulation. That is to say, the ability of DNA to regulate genes that are separated from each other and to determine the exact moment of doing so. Sequences of DNA that are situated in other chromosomes, or very separated from a specific gene, are still capable of activating or inhibiting it. “This ability to control more genes and in more specific ways is what allowed animals to dramatically increase their morphological complexity, to the point of creating organisms with billions of cells, as it is the case with mammals”, stated Iñaki Ruiz-Trillo, ICREA Research Professor at the Institute of Evolutionary Biology.

More information:
IBE (CSIC-UPF) Website

Reference work:
Sebé-Pedrós, A.; Ballare, C.; Parra-Acero, H.; Chiva, C.; Tena, J.; Sabidó, E.; Gómez-Skarmeta, J.-L.; Di Croce, L.; Ruiz-Trillo, I. The Dynamic Regulatory Genome of Capsaspora owczarzaki and the Origin of Animal Multicellularity Cell. DOI: 10.1016/j.cell.2016.03.034