Humans share their brain’s blueprint with sea anemones

They found that the gene program involved in shaping the brain along the anterior-posterior axis was also responsible for shaping Nematostella’s extremely simple neural net. They found that genes in neural networks involved in regionalization—assigning cells to different parts of the nervous system—also functioned to regionalize all other types of cells. Therefore, their roles are not limited to shaping the brain.

This finding supports the hypothesis that the central nervous system evolved through the collective selection of broadly functional regionalization programs that existed in an ancestor and are still found in many species today.

„At least our findings refute the argument that conserved regionalization programs are sufficient to support the homology of bilateral brains,” Layton said. „Our findings support the co-option hypothesis, as no new function has to evolve to independently connect print programs.”

This research is an example of how scientists are looking at other species to open up our understanding of ourselves. Leyden’s lab also studies the mechanisms at work in Nematostella during the separate but similar process of neuronal regeneration, or the regrowth or repair of dead or damaged nerve cells.

He believes that establishing an understanding of these processes will help lay the groundwork for potential human applications such as regenerative therapies.

Of course, evolution led to extraordinary improvements in the fully developed central nervous systems of animals rather than the primitive neural nets of cnidarians. The respective nervous systems of humans and cnidarians have evolved in very different ways to meet the different needs of their respective species. But the basic diagram remains the same.

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„By studying how these animals build their nervous systems, we can gain an understanding of the building blocks,” Leyden said. „If you don’t know where you started, it’s hard to know where you’re going.”

Note: Faltine-Gonzalez D, Hawrylak J, Layton MJ. Brain regulatory programming predates the evolution of the central nervous system. Scientific representative. 2023;13(1):8626. doi: 10.1038/s41598-023-35721-4

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