Secrets of our ancient animal ancestors may be revealed through oldest DNA sequences

700 million year-old DNA sequences from ancient animals have been unearthed by researchers at the Universities of Leicester and Warwick, shedding new light on our earliest animal ancestors and how they influenced modern species - including the sponge.

The team, led by Dr Eran Tauber (Leicester) and Dr Sascha Ott (Warwick) has discovered highly conserved sequences in non-coding DNA by analysing the genome sequences of 12 different insects – and has identified a set of 322 non-coding DNA regions which have been evolutionarily preserved for at least 180 million years. 

The ancient sequences were found to be present in a wide variety of modern animals including insects, mammals, reptiles, jellyfish, and even our most distant animal ancestor, the sponge.

The youngest sequences uncovered by the analysis are conserved among bees, ants, and wasps while the two oldest sequences have been conserved for at least 670 million years – making them among the oldest regulatory DNA sequences of which we know, and would have been present in some of our earliest animal ancestors.

Dr Tauber, Lecturer in Molecular Evolution in the Department of Genetics, said: “We are looking forward now to uncovering the specific function of these DNA elements using molecular biology and genetic engineering in our laboratory.”