Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Spiders and scorpions have co-opted leg genes to build their heads

Arthropods are among the most successful animals on the planet. They inhabit the sea (horseshoe crabs), the sky (fruit flies), and the earth (scorpions) in vast numbers and are defined by their exoskeleton exteriors and segmented legs and bodies.

These adaptable, modular parts may help explain why these animals are so well-suited to life on every corner of the planet. Their jointed legs and partitioned bodies also help provide clues into how they have evolved.

In a new study published March 26, 2018 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers Emily Setton and Prashant Sharma show that the common house spider and its arachnid relatives have dispensed with a gene involved in creating segmented heads, instead recycling leg genes to accomplish the task.

"We study spiders, scorpions and others to help build a more complete evolutionary story and look at what's going on in the complex world of arthropods," says Setton, who was an undergraduate majoring in anthropology and biology when she completed the work as one of just two study authors. "The world is a great, big place full of amazing diversity. We want to know, how does this happen? How do you build an animal?"

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