What Our Brains Have in Common With Acorn Worms, And Other Hopkins Revelations
April 19, 2012
Stanford University's Hopkins Marine Station in Pacific Grove is making national news again: Two potentially groundbreaking findings by Hopkins scientists have put new spins on our understanding of brain evolution, and the resilience of corals in the face of climate change.
One study questions the current theory of brain evolution. As explained in a Medical News Today article, it's been thought the complex brain evolved after vertebrates (spined creatures like fish and humans) split from invertebrates (insects and worms) on the evolutionary tree.
A genetic "scaffold" that controls chemical signals in the brain was previously believed to be the domain of vertebrates alone. But Chris Lowe, an assistant professor of biology at Hopkins, found evidence of those scaffolds in a deep-sea invertebrate, the acorn worm Saccoglossus kowalevskii.
"This suggests that essential parts of these blueprints, previously thought to be unique to complex brains, have much earlier evolutionary origins," he told the press in mid-March. In other words, our brains might be older than we thought. (Is that why I couldn't find my car keys this morning?)
Also last month, Hopkins director Stephen Palumbi announced that while many of the coral reefs of the world are dying with rising ocean temperature, a reef in American Samoa is thriving.
"In fact, they're growing faster than the same species elsewhere," he stated in a Stanford press release.
Palumbi and his team are trying to find out why, and hope the answer will help them protect corals damaged by climate change worldwide. Coral reefs are magnificent hubs of marine biodiversity and critical economic resources for coastal and island communities.