Sponge Paleogenomics Reveals an Ancient Role for Carbonic Anhydrase in Skeletogenesis

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Science  29 Jun 2007:
Vol. 316, Issue 5833, pp. 1893-1895
DOI: 10.1126/science.1141560

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Sponges (phylum Porifera) were prolific reef-building organisms during the Paleozoic and Mesozoic ∼542 to 65 million years ago. These ancient animals inherited components of the first multicellular skeletogenic toolkit from the last common ancestor of the Metazoa. Using a paleogenomics approach, including gene- and protein-expression techniques and phylogenetic reconstruction, we show that a molecular component of this toolkit was the precursor to the α-carbonic anhydrases (α-CAs), a gene family used by extant animals in a variety of fundamental physiological processes. We used the coralline demosponge Astrosclera willeyana, a “living fossil” that has survived from the Mesozoic, to provide insight into the evolution of the ability to biocalcify, and show that the α-CA family expanded from a single ancestral gene through several independent gene-duplication events in sponges and eumetazoans.

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