Thanks to the marine worm Platynereis dumerilii (image), an animal whose genes have evolved very slowly, scientists from the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), Université de Paris, and Sorbonne Université, in association with others at the University of Saint Petersburg and the University of Rio de Janeiro, have shown that while hemoglobin appeared independently in several species, it actually descends from a single gene transmitted to all by their last common ancestor. These findings were published online on December 29, 2020 in BMC Evolutionary Biology. The open-access article is titled “Globins in the Marine Annelid Platynereis dumerilii Shed New Light on Hemoglobin Evolution in Bilaterians.” Having red blood is not peculiar to humans or mammals. This color comes from hemoglobin, a complex protein specialized in transporting the oxygen found in the circulatory system of vertebrates, but also in annelids (a worm family whose most famous members are earthworms), molluscs (especially pond snails), and crustaceans (such as daphnia or “water fleas”). It was thought that for hemoglobin to have appeared in such diverse species, it must have been “invented” several times during evolution. But recent research has shown that all of these hemoglobins, thought to have been born “independently,” actually derive from a single ancestral gene. Researchers from the Institut Jacques Monod (CNRS/Université de Paris), the Laboratoire Matière et Systèmes Complexes (CNRS/Université de Paris), the Station Biologique de Roscoff (CNRS/Sorbonne Université), the Universities of Saint Petersburg (Russia) and Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), conducted this research on Platynereis dumerilii, a small marine worm with red blood.
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