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Friday, February 4, 2011

The World Is Awesome

We humans know that we are very special animals indeed. Recently, our technological advances have enabled us to document the genetic sequences of many different species, often challenging what we thought we knew about nature.

One of the newest discoveries is the genome of Daphnia pulex, a water flea found in North America, Europe, and Australia. The incredible little creature is capable of asexual reproduction and rapid gene replication, two of the factors that led to it being the first crustacean to have its genome sequenced. What was discovered is that Daphinia pulex carries more genes than any creature tested: a whopping 31, 000 compared to our 23, 000.

While it should be noted that many of the genes are copies, D. pulex carries many genes found in humans and other species. What's more, the flea also carries some very unique genetic information with one-third of its genes never seen before in any creature.

The wee flea has evolved an ability to rapidly replicate its genes and change them in response to environmental factors. Such changes are helpful to humans and other species as test subjects, explains Indiana professor James Klaunig "The Daphnia system is an exquisite aquatic sensor, a potential high-tech and modern version of the mineshaft canary," he said. "With knowledge of its genome... the possible effects of environmental agents on cellular and molecular processes can be resolved and linked to similar processes in humans."

Photo credit: Christian LaForsch, LMU Munich


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