Today, I was reading the headlines on LiveScience and came across this article on the Sea Urchin genome. It's interesting to me because the HGSC at Baylor did most of the work. George Weinstock, the fellow quoted in the article - he's two offices down from me. (Note that this doesn't mean he has any idea who this lowly graduate student is...)
Anyway, about halfway through the article, I noticed a sentence that said that sea urchin research would be useful, because they are the first chordate to be sequenced.
Here's a quick lesson in the relevant taxonomy (don't let your eyes glaze over - this is interesting stuff!) Chordates are members of the phylum Chordata. Phyla are large taxonomic groups (remember the acronym?) and Chordata includes all vertebrates, along with just a few invertebrates. I'm almost positive that Homo sapiens was the first Chordate to be sequenced. It wasn't until after the human genome that we moved on to other mammals and more far-flung creatures like the Sea Urchin.
That's not even the worst part_ Sea Urchins are actually members of the phylum Echinodermata, which means they aren't chordates at all! Their phylum includes species like starfish and sea cucumbers.
I let the folks at LiveScience know through their contact form, and to their credit, they re-checked their facts and made some changes to the article. The section now reads_
They belong to the phylum Echinodermata, which includes starfish and sea cucumbers, whereas humans belong to the phylum Chordata, or all animals with backbones. Both the echinoderms and chordates belong to a larger group called the deuterostomes.
This relationship means sea urchins can serve as a model for understanding how the group of animals that includes humans split off and evolved different traits.
Kudos for them for being quick to respond.
Update: As RPM points out in the comments, they're still wrong. The offending passage_
humans belong to the phylum Chordata, or all animals with backbones.
Chordata, as I said above includes all vertebrates and some invertebrates. They're characterized by having a dorsal nerve chord at some stage in their development. Looks like it's time for another email.