Sea anemones are classified as being animals, but two new genetic studies have found that these water-dwelling creatures are technically half plant and half animal.
The discovery does not change the classification of sea anemones, but the studies -- both published in the latest issue of the journal Genome Research -- reveal just how interconnected life on Earth is.
"All animals living now, including humans, are equally distant (i.e. distantly related) to plants," project leader Ulrich Technau told Discovery News. "However, the sea anemones are representatives of an animal lineage called the cnidarians (corals, sea anemones, jellyfish and hydras), which branched off very early and appear to have retained many ancestral traits."
Technau, an evolutionary and developmental biologist at the University of Vienna, and his teams determined that, remarkably, cnidarians use a plant-like system to control animal genes.
For the studies, the researchers focused on gene expression, which is the process by which information from a gene is used in the synthesis of a functional gene product, such as proteins or large biological molecules known as RNA.