Tuesday, 23 April 2013

'Living fossil' coelacanth genome sequenced


By Rebecca Morelle, Science reporter, BBC World Service
The genetic secrets of a "living fossil" have been revealed by scientists.

Researchers sequenced the genome of the coelacanth: a deep-sea fish that closely resembles its ancestors, which lived at least 300 million years ago.

The study found that some of the animal's genes evolved very slowly, giving it its primitive appearance.

The work also shed light on how the fish was related to the first land-based animals.

The coelacanth has four large, fleshy fins, which some scientists believe could have been the predecessors of limbs.

It had been suggested that this fish was closely related to early tetrapods - the first creatures to drag themselves out of the ocean, giving rise to life on land.

But the study, published in the journal Nature, suggested that another fish called the lungfish, which also has four limbs, had more genes in common with land-based animals.

Slow to change
The coelacanth can reach up to 2m-long and is found lurking in caves deep beneath the waves.

It was thought to have been extinct for millions of years, until it turned up in a trawlerman's net off the coast of Africa in 1938.

Its ancient appearance has earned it the title "living fossil" - but it is so elusive, that it has been hard to study.


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