When genomics and taxonomy collide, one can uncover the conserved DNA motifs that enabled eukaryotes to exhibit social behaviors about a billion years ago. From the sequencing Sponges, choanoflagellates, and fungi, some researchers are hoping to piece together how multicellularity was able to arise at several times, independently in different branches of the eukaryotic tree. Previous work was limited to comparisons of just animals, just as Drosophilia and C. elegans, in this paper on the evolution of cell adhesion in animals.
Now, however, there is a National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) endorsed a multi-taxon genome-sequencing initiative that will generate extensive genomic data from some of the closest extant unicellular relatives of both animals and fungi. The project, dubbed UNICORN (not sure how they got that acronym, as I didn’t see it spelled out in the paper), promises to do greatly improve our resolution of a major event in eukaryotic evolution. Further, the comprehensive and coherent genomic data that will be generated in this initiative will provide a unique resource for fundamental life sciences research, including parasitology, comparative genomics, pathogenomics, macromolecular modeling, molecular evolution, gene discovery, and development of new experimental model systems.
- Ruiz-Trillo I, Burger G, Holland PW, King N, Lang BF, Roger AJ, Gray MW. The origins of multicellularity: a multi-taxon genome initiative. Trends Genet. 2007 Mar;23(3):113-8.
- Hynes RO, Zhao Q. The evolution of cell adhesion. J Cell Biol. 2000 Jul 24;150(2):F89-96.