from the happened-twice-it-was-so-nice dept.
If you think that early animals started out simple and gradually evolved new features, and things like sponges branched off before the new features were added, you wouldn't be alone. Over the years, lots of researchers argued the same thing. But a recent genome sequence indicated that the oldest branch of the animal family tree that led to the comb jellies, with muscles, nerves, and tentacles, were an older branch than sponges. Now with a new paper on the comb jelly, researchers are starting to argue over what this actually tells us about the earliest animals.
The comb jellies' genome contains a variety of other indications that they are exceptional. Most of the innate immune system, which broadly recognizes pathogens like bacteria and viruses, is missing. So is the machinery that processes micro RNAs, which are used to control the expression of other genes. Key regulators of development, like hedgehog and JAK/STAT proteins, are also absent. So are key genes involved in the formation of muscles, suggesting that these, too, may have evolved separately in the ctenophores.