A group of international researchers, including researchers from the Centre for Plant Biotechnology and Genomics (UPM-INA/CSIC) in Madrid, has found that many genes involved in synaptic communication are activated in cells of the digestive chambers in sponges. This finding will help to understand the evolutionary origin of animal cell types such as neurons and muscles

A group of international researchers – that includes members of the laboratory of Comparative Genomics and Metagenomics of the Centre for Plant Biotechnology and Genomics (UPM-INA/CSIC) – has published the possible evolutionary relationship between the cells and genes of sponges and the brain of other animals in Science. The study results suggest that the cells that regulate feeding in sponges may be the ancestors of the first animal brains.

The brain is an essential organ of the nervous system in most animals. Only a few primitive animals, such as sponges, do not have a brain (or similar organs). These marine animals do not have a nervous system but do have a simple body for filter-feeding. 

The study has shown that some cells in the digestive chambers of sponges have active synaptic genes; these genes are those implicated in the communication between neurons. The Spanish researchers involved in the project are the ones who have developed the bioinformatics models to identify which modern synaptic genes share a common past with sponge synaptic genes. 

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