Sea anemone is genetically half animal, half plant

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Evolutionary and developmental biologist Ulrich Technau and his team at the University of Vienna have discovered that sea anemones display a genomic landscape with a complexity of regulatory elements similar to that of fruit flies or other animal model systems. This suggests that this principle of gene regulation is already 600 million years old and dates back to the common ancestor of human, fly and sea anemone. On the other hand, sea anemones are more similar to plants rather to vertebrates or insects in their regulation of gene expression by short regulatory RNAs called microRNAs. It assumed that plant microRNAs arose independently from animal microRNAs, but their evolutionary origins, as they state in the article, is unclear. This is the first qualitative difference found between Cnidaria and “higher” animals and the findings provide insight on how important levels of gene regulation can evolve independently.