2004 Annual Science Report
University of California, Los Angeles Reporting | JUL 2003 – JUN 2004
Evolution of Sensory and Neural Systems in Basal Animals
We are making substantial progress in our objective to understand the assembly of animal body plans.
We have focused on the evolution of the developmental genetics of sensory and neural systems in basal animals. Our approach examining developmental genes in basal taxa has been effective. We recently published a paper on the eye/sense organ developmental gene sine oculis from sponges, jellyfish, ctenophores and basal bilaterians such as flatworms and mollusks. These data demonstrate the presence and, in the case of jellyfish, expression of these sense organ related genes, providing critical insight into the evolution of sense organs—-a fundamental aspect of the animal condition. The presence of these genes in sponges is at once intriguing and illuminating and will ultimately require new models of the evolution of genes and development at the base of the animal tree. We continue to make progress in this area with recovery of other sense organ genes such as optix and eyes absent in basal animals. We have also been successful in the first stages of recovery of genes that we infer to be important in the evolution of the skeletons of Bilateria. This investigation of the developmental underpinnings of invertebrate skeletogenesis will ultimately allow us to integrate the fossil record of evolution