We already knew that creatures with very similar genomes, like humans and chimps, can be very different. Now it seems that creatures who look the same might have radically different genomes. Our post-human children may look like us after all.
In a paper published today in Science, biologist France Denoeud and colleagues describe the strange case of a tiny, transluscent sea creature called Oikopleura. Though this creature shares many physical features with other creatures related to it, the researchers who sequenced its genome say its genetic material is organized in a "substantially different way" than most other animals.
It's likely that the humble Oikopleura has been evolving more rapidly than its relatives in the phylum Chordata, and that could account for its unusual genome. This study confirms that body types may remain the same, even as genome architectures evolve rapidly.
This is a particularly interesting study for people interested in the "posthuman future," where humans have tinkered substantially with their genomes. One of the questions futurists and science fiction authors often ask is, "Will we recognize humans in 500 years?" This study suggests that even if we mess around with our genomes, we might look more or less the same. Unless we grow exoskeletons.
Images by Jean-Marie Bouquet and Jiri Slama, copyright Science/AAAS