Scientists from Scotland claim to trace our origins to a genetic mistake 500 million years ago.

In large bold print on Live Science, reporter Jennifer Viegas announced this headline: “500 Million-Year-Old ‘Mistake’ Led to Humans.”  The opening tried to dramatize claims made by scientists at the University of Dundee about a marine creature named amphioxus:

Over 500 million years ago a spineless creature on the ocean floor experienced two successive doublings in the amount of its DNA, a “mistake” that eventually triggered the evolution of humans and many other animals, says a new study.

The good news is that these ancient DNA doublings boosted cellular communication systems, so that our body cells are now better at integrating information than even the smartest smartphones. The bad part is that communication breakdowns, traced back to the very same genome duplications of the Cambrian Period, can cause diabetes, cancer and neurological disorders.

It’s a long way from amphioxus, indeed.  PhysOrg called this an “evolutionary upheaval” that resulted in an “evolutionary leap” over 500 million years.  One of the scientists justified this storytelling by claiming it sheds light on the origin of disease: “Analysis of these gene families from an evolutionary point of view helps to navigate through the increasingly large data sets on protein interactions in a more focused and productive way, speeding the way towards establishing the links between particular proteins and diseases as well as highlighting new potential disease targets.”  He did not explain why comparative genomics requires the assumption of evolutionary common ancestry, nor did he give any measure of focus and productivity using the evolutionary point of view….

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