I think I’ve beaten PZ Myers to this one!
Scientists at the Brain Institute, and the School of Biomedical Sciences at the University of Queensland, look to have unlocked part of the gene-molecular interaction responsible for the formation of the neural tube. The neural tube is the first structure to develop in what will eventually become the central nervous system.
This is important because defects in the closure of the neural tube leads to some real nasty defects in the nervous system, such as spina bifida and even anencephaly.
The interaction in question is between Repulsive Guidance Molecule (RGMa) and the receptor protein Neogenin. The team experimented on zebrafish and clawed toad embryos by knocking out Neogenin. They found that this interrupted the proper formation of neural folds, which is the first stage in the development of neural tubes, subsequently affecting the closing of the neural fold.
Identifying one of the interactions involved in neural tube development will allow experimentation on how Folic Acid reduces the incidence of neural tube abnormalities. It has been known for some time that increasing the intake of Folic Acid by women before conception reduces the incidence of neural tube abnormalities, but little is known about the mechanisms involved.
Why is this on Ediacaran? Because the neural tube is of great significance to all us chordates (Yes, we too have Neogenin). And so a better understanding of the mechanisms behind neural tube formation can give us insights to the evolution of the Chordata.
Nigel Kee, Nicole Wilson, Melissa De Vries, DanaKai Bradford, Brian Key, and Helen M. Cooper (2008). Neogenin and RGMa Control Neural Tube Closure and Neuroepithelial Morphology by Regulating Cell Polarity. Journal of Neuroscience, 28(48):12643-12653.
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