An international team of researchers, headed by researchers from the University of Bristol, revealed, in a new study, the evolutionary origins of animal biodiversity.
We already know that animals evolved from unicellular ancestors, growing into 30 or 40 different anatomical designs, but when and how these patterns formed is still a topic of many debates and academic studies. In this regard, the primary question is if these animals evolved over eons of gradual evolution, as indicated by Darwin’s theory, or those distinct anatomical designs appeared in an explosion of biodiversity around 500 million years ago, in the Cambrian Period.
And that’s precisely what the new study led by the University of Bristol struggled to find out.
“Our results show that fundamental evolutionary change was not limited to an early burst of evolutionary experimentation. Animal designs have continued to evolve to the present day – not gradually as Darwin predicted – but in fits and starts, episodically through their evolutionary history,” explained Professor Philip Donoghue from the University of Bristol.
Evolutionary origins of animal biodiversity revealed
“Many of the animals we are familiar with today are objectively bizarre compared with the Cambrian weird wonders. Frankly, butterflies and birds are stranger than anything swimming in the ancient sea,” said Bradley Deline, from the University of West Georgia, in the USA, and co-author of the study. The researcher also added that “the major expansions in animal form following the Cambrian aligns with other major ecological transitions, such as the exploration of land.”
By gathering data on the distinct genomes, regulatory genes, and proteins the living animal groups have, the scientists tried finding out which of the genetic mechanisms led to the animal biodiversity evolution. As a result, the researchers noticed that the differences in anatomical designs are similar with those of the regulatory gene sets but distinct of the differences in proteins’ diversity.
This discovery suggests that the evolutionary origins of animal biodiversity reside in “the evolution of genetic regulation of embryology.”
“Our study confirms the view that continued gene regulatory construction was a key to animal evolution,” concluded Kevin Peterson from the Dartmouth College in the USA, and one of the study’s co-authors.
Jasmine holds a Master’s in Journalism from Ryerson University in Toronto and writes professionally in a broad variety of genres. She has worked as a senior manager in public relations and communications for major telecommunication companies, and is the former Deputy Director for Media Relations with the Modern Coalition. Jasmine writes primarily in our LGBTTQQIAAP and Science section.