For the first time ever, scientists have successfully mapped the entire genome of a centipede, and came up with one or two surprising discoveries – on how centipedes differ from other arthropods and land animals. These have to do with their light receptors and facts related to how they must have evolved to live on land.

You already know that centipedes have hundreds of legs, don’t you? But you may not know that they have two-thirds of human genes; humans have about 22,000 genes or thereabout and centipedes have 15,000 genes.

Centipedes are part of the family of arthropods, a group of invertebrates that comprise of spiders, insects, crustaceans, millipedes, and others. In mapping the genome of the European centipede Strigamia maritime, scientists discovered that the centipede lacked certain genes that were supposed to be there. For instance, the Strigamia maritima does not have the gene to utilize light stimuli, that is, the centipede does not have light receptors as other animals do.

“Strigamia live underground and have no eyes, so it’s not surprising that many of the genes for light receptors are missing. But they behave as if they are hiding from the light. They must have some alternative way of detecting when they are exposed,” says zoologist Michael Akam of the University of Cambridge in Britain.

The Strigamia maritima also lacks the genes controlling circadian thythm, that is, the body clock. This means that the organism must be using some system to regulate timing as different from that of other animals.

“The use of different evolutionary solutions to similar problems shows that myriapods and insects adapted to dry land independently of each other. For example, comparing the centipede and insect genomes shows that they independently evolved different solutions to the same problem shared by all land-dwelling creatures — that of living in dry air, ” says co-author Ariel Chipman of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Alexander Silberman Institute of Life Science. “If we have a better understanding of the biological world around us, how it operates, and how it came to be as it is, we will ultimately have a better understanding of ourselves,” he says.

The main purpose of sequencing the genes of the Strigamia maritime is to understand their evolution from water to land animals, with a view to understanding our environment and our world much better. The researchers had published their study in the journal PLOS Biology.


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