Snakes Actually Have Genes For Limbs, Study Finds

Posted: Oct 5 2015, 1:09am CDT | by , Updated: Oct 5 2015, 8:44pm CDT, in News | Latest Science News


Snakes Actually have Genes for Limbs, Study Finds
Photo Credit: Getty Images

Snakes still have genetic blueprints for limb development in their genome, according to a recent study.

Many previous researches indicated that primitive snakes had limbs extending from the sides of their bodies. A recent study, conducted by University of Georgia researchers, also supports this evolutionary theory. They have found the evidence of blueprints for limbs encoded in the genome of some of the ancient species of snake.

“Some older lineages of living snake species, such as the members of Booidea (for example boas and pythons), retain a highly reduced hindlimb development.” Study writes.

Snakes supposedly lost their limbs as they learned to maneuver across the ground and switched to a limbless body around hundreds of millions of years ago. But modern snakes still have genes for limbs, which is primarily responsible for the formation of external genitalia. 

“There have been many millions of snake generations since they evolved a legless body, and we would generally expect the DNA associated with limb development to fade away or mutate to do another job, but that doesn’t seem to have happened.” Lead author Douglas B. Menke, said.

Although external genitalia differ from limbs in both form and function but their development has some common features.

“Both limbs and external genitalia form through the establishment of tissue outgrowths from the main body axis during embryogenesis, and both possess regional signaling centers that direct growth and patterning.” Study reads.

Since the development of limbs is also important for forming genitalia. That’s may be the reason why “snakes still have the genetic blueprints for limb development in their genome.” 

Researchers studies three species of snake boa, Burmese python and king cobra for the research. They have used the database, containing thousands of humans and mouse sequences tested for “enhancers” activity in embryos. The enhancers or elements are a set of noncoding DNA which generates both limbs and phallus. 

“For purely looking at the DNA sequences we can conclude that snakes retain many enhancers that, based on mammalian studies, we thought were limb enhancers,” said Menke. “There have been tens of millions of generations for these elements to be lost but the fact these are still present in snakes prompted us to rethink what these limb enhancers are doing in snakes and mice.”

The study was published in Cell.

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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.




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