In collaboration with scientists from the U.K., Europe, Japan and the United States, researchers at the Human Genome Sequencing Center at Baylor College of Medicine have discovered a whole genome duplication during the evolution of spiders and scorpions. The study appears in BMC Biology.
Researchers have long been studying spiders and scorpions for both applied reasons, such as studying venom components for pharmaceuticals and silks for materials science, and for basic questions such as the reasons for the evolution and to understand the development and ecological success of this diverse group of carnivorous organisms.
As part of a pilot project for the i5K, a project to study the genomes of 5,000 arthropod species, the Human Genome Sequencing Center analyzed the genome of the house spider Parasteatoda tepidariorum – a model species studied in laboratories – and the Arizona bark scorpion Centruroides sculpturatus, – the most venomous scorpion in North America.
Analysis of these genomes revealed that spiders and scorpions evolved from a shared ancestor more than 400 million years ago, which made new copies of all of the genes in its genome, a process called whole genome duplication. Such an event is one of the largest evolutionary changes that can happen to a genome and is relatively rare during animal evolution.
Dr. Stephen Richards, associate professor in the Human Genome Sequencing Center, who led the genome sequencing at Baylor, said, “It is tremendously exciting to see rapid progress in our molecular understanding of a species that we coexist with on planet earth. Spider genome analysis is particularly tricky, and we believe this is one of the highest quality spider genomes to date.”
“Many people fear spiders and scorpions, but this research shows what a beautiful part of the evolutionary tree they represent,” said Dr. Richard Gibbs, director of the Human Genome Sequencing Center and the Wofford Cain Chair and professor of molecular and human genetics at Baylor.
“Costs have now dropped rapidly enough from tens of millions of dollars to merely a few thousand dollars for this genomic analyses to now be performed on any species,” Richards said. “There is still so much more to learn about the life on earth around us, and I believe this result is just the beginning of understanding the molecular make up of spiders.”
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