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Centipede Genome Unlocks Secrets of Early Evolution

Nov 28, 2014 09:56 AM EST

In an amazing feat, researchers have sequenced the entire centipede genome, helping to unlock the secrets of early evolution, according to new research.

Centipedes are arthropods, a group of numerous invertebrate animals that includes insects, spiders and crustaceans. Until now, myriapods such as centipedes and millipedes were the only class of arthropods whose genome had yet to be sequenced.

Then an international team of more than 100 researchers decided to map the full genome of the centipede for the first time. They found that the Strigamia maritima, a northern European centipede, has around 15,000 genes - some 7,000 fewer than a human, according to NBC News.

Though this many-legged creature is sometimes scary, its DNA is giving researchers new insight on how life developed on our planet. For example, how animals emerged from their life at sea and learned to survive on land.

"The use of different evolutionary solutions to similar problems shows that myriapods and insects adapted to dry land independently of each other," Ariel Chipman, senior co-author of the study and project leader at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem's Alexander Silberman Institute of Life Science, said in a statement.

According to the study, the team also found that S. maritima appears to have lost almost all the genes encoding any of the known light receptors used by animals as well as any genes controlling circadian rhythm, or the body's internal clock.

And though the centipede lacks the olfactory gene family used by insects to smell, it developed a different, unique set of genes that give it air-sniffing capabilities.

Though they may be closely related to insects, centipedes and their genomes offer new insight into evolution on Earth for other species including humans.

"If we have a better understanding of the biological world around us," Chipman said, "how it operates, and how it came to be as it is, we will ultimately have a better understanding of ourselves."

The findings were published in the journal PLoS Biology.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

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