The relationship between oxygen and the emergence and diversification of animals is a topic that has been extensively debated by scientists over the decades. All animals currently described need oxygen for at least part of their life cycle. Therefore, the transition from an anoxic (without free molecular oxygen) to an oxygenated planet is considered by many authors as a prerequisite for the emergence and diversification of animals. However, although it is accepted that the Neoproterozoic oceans were habitats with low dissolved oxygen levels, we know little about the respiratory physiology of early animals adapted to live in those environments. To understand the respiratory physiology of the first metazoans that emerged in the Neoproterozoic Era, we are using modern analogs of early metazoans as models to infer aspects about the physiology of their early ancestors. Using simulation chambers that recreate the Neoproterozoic oxygenation oceanic conditions, we will compare differences in gene expression of animals submitted to the experiments with those maintained in a control situation. The correlation of these differentially expressed genes and metabolic pathways with paleoenvironmental data from the Neoproterozoic Era will allow making inferences about the physiology of early metazoans. The geological and evolutionary processes that may have influenced the origin and diversification of metazoans can be greatly enlightened by the results produced by this project.
News published in Agência FAPESP Newsletter about the scholarship: