The Keio Journal of Medicine

Porifera a reference phylum for evolution and bioprospecting:
the power of marine genomics
Werner E.G. Müller, Heiko Schwertner and Isabel M. Müller

The term Urmetazoa, as the hypothetical metazoan ancestor, was introduced to highlight the finding that all metazoan phyla including the Porifera [sponges] derived from one common ancestor. Analyses of sponge genomes, from Demospongiae, Calcarea and Hexactinellida have permittedthe reconstruction of the evolutionary trail from Fungi to Metazoa. This has provided evidence that thecharacteristic evolutionary novelties of Metazoa existing in Porifera share high sequence similarities and in some aspects also functional similarities to related polypeptides found in other metazoan phyla. It is surprising that the genome of Porifera is large and comprises substantially more genes than Protostomia and Deuterostomia. On the basis of solid taxonomy and ecological data, the high value of thisphylum for human application becomes obvious especially with regard to the field of chemical ecologyand the hope to find novel potential drugs for clinical use. In addition, the benefit of efforts in understanding molecular biodiversity with focus on sponges can be seen in the fact that these animals as "living fossils" allow to stethoscope into the past of our globe especially with respect to the evolutionof Metazoa.