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Old 02-07-2011, 11:55 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Default Tiny Water Flea Has More Genes Than You Do

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By Mark Brown, Wired UK

This tiny, near-microscopic water flea has more genes than you. In fact, this freshwater zooplankton is the first crustacean to have its genome sequenced, and its 31,000 genes crowns it the animal with the most genes so far. For those keeping count at home, the average human has about 20,000 to 25,000 genes.

The translucent water flea is a Daphnia pulex, and lives in ponds and lakes throughout North America, Europe and Australia. It can also reproduce without sex, is the most commonly found species of water flea and is a “model organism”, meaning it’s studied extensively and provides insight into other, rarer species.

The reason for this little critters’ super-high gene count comes down to its rapid rate of gene multiplication. “We estimate a rate that is three times greater than those of other invertebrates and 30 percent greater than that of humans,” project leader and CGB genomics director John Colbourne said in a press release.

As well as having a massive number of genes, more than a third of them have never been seen before in other animals. “In other words, they are completely new to science,” says Don Gilbert, coauthor and Department of Biology scientist at IU Bloomington. Those previously unknown genes are due to the nature of the flea’s environment.

Doing genomic research on animals, even as tiny as this zooplankton, holds importance for humans too. “The Daphnia system is an exquisite aquatic sensor, a potential high-tech and modern version of the mineshaft canary,” James E. Klaunig of Indiana University said in a press release. By looking at how changing environmental agents affect the celluar and molecular processes of this flea, we can extrapolate that to the genes shared in humans.

The findings were reported in the journal Science, by members of the Center for Genomics and Bioinformatics (CGB) at Indiana University Bloomington and the U.S. Department of Energy’s Joint Genome Institute.

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