BERKELY, Calif., Aug. 4 (UPI) -- Scientists say the gene sequence of sponges, the simplest and most ancient of animals, could provide clues to how multi-cell animals -- and cancer -- developed.
University of California, Berkeley, researchers say the common ancestor of sponges and humans -- in fact of all animals -- lived 600 million years ago, and a sponge-like creature may have been the first organism with more than one cell type and the ability to develop by repeatedly dividing the one cell created by the merger of egg and sperm cells, a university release said Wednesday.
"Our hypothesis is that multicellularity and cancer are two sides of the same coin," Daniel Rokhsar, a professor of molecular and cell biology at UC Berkeley said.
"If you are a cell in a multicellular organism, you have to cooperate with other cells in your body, making sure that you divide when you are supposed to as part of the team," he said. "The genes that regulate this cooperation are also the ones whose disruption can cause cells to behave selfishly and grow in uncontrolled ways to the detriment of the organism."
Rokhsar's team looked in the sponge genome for more than 100 genes that have been implicated in human cancers and found about 90 percent of them.
Future research may show what roles these genes play in endowing sponge cells with team spirit -- or with destructive, out-of-control growth.