Nautilus

What Sea Slugs Taught Us About Our Brain

When Leonid Moroz, a gregarious Russian-born neuroscientist and geneticist at the University of Florida, began studying ctenophores nearly a decade ago, he had a fairly simple goal in mind. He wanted to determine exactly where the blobby marine creatures—which are more commonly known as comb jellies because of the comb-like projections they use to swim—belonged on the tree of life.

After spending several years sequencing ctenophores, Moroz and his team discovered that the animals were missing many of the genes found in the nervous system of other animals thought to be closely related, such as coral and actual jellyfish. That meant that they’d branched off on their own up to 550 million years ago and were potentially among the first

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