Nervous system originated in sponges

The CBC has an article about “Origins of nervous system found in sponges.”

Researchers at the University of California, Santa Barbara, have discovered that while sponges remain the only multicellular animals without a nervous system, they do possess most of the genetic components of synapses, one of the essential building blocks of a nervous system.

The results are being published in PLoS ONE, a journal of the U.S. Public Library of Science.

Scientists compared the genes of a species of sponge to human genes for expressing a synapse (a connecting point between nerve cells). This suggests that the sponges developed many of the building blocks for constructing a true nervous system.

Ken Kosik, senior author and the co-director of the university’s Neuroscience Research Institute, said:

We look at the evolutionary period between sponges and cnidarians as the period when the nervous system came into existence, about 600 million years ago. It is clear that evolution was able to take this entire structure [in sponges], and, with small modifications, direct its use toward a new function.

NOTE: Fossil sponges go back to the Vendian era, about 680 million years ago. About 300 genera of fossil sponges are known. (I don’t know how many species.) See geological time line.


Going further back, the paramecium, a relatively large single-celled animal, uses the same ions as all other animals to generate coordinating signals to its thousands of cilia.

Addendum: P.Z. Myers had posted a detailed description of the discovery in terms of proteins and gene expression. He also has a nice diagram of a synapse.

6 Responses to “Nervous system originated in sponges”

  1. Harold Asmis Says:

    I now have greater respect for Spongebob.

  2. RPM Says:

    The results are being published in PLoS ONE, a journal of the U.S. Public Library of Science.

    PLoS is not affiliated with the United States government in any way (I’m not sure that’s what you were implying, but it sounds like you’re saying it’s the Public Library of Science of the United States). In fact, PLoS ONE’s center of operations are in the UK. PLoS is an international open access organization.

  3. monado Says:

    rpm, thanks for the correction. I’ll drop a note to the CBC, whose article says: “The findings were published in the June 6 issue of the journal PLoS ONE, a U.S. Public Library of Science journal.” Perhaps they meant to say “U.K.”

  4. monado Says:

    I have forwarded your comment to the CBC’s department of accuracy.

  5. monado Says:

    They didn’t answer me, but the article now says “international” instead of “U.S.”

  6. kabonfootprint Says:

    thank’s for this reference. because, I am must finishing my studies. THANK’S


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