Scientists Map Acorn Worm DNA, And Learn A Lot About Humans In The Process

Turns out we share DNA with a lot of unexpected critters -- and bananas.

You'd never know at first glance, but human beings have a surprising amount in common with acorn worms.

More than 500 million years ago, humans and these soft-bodied invertebrates had a common ancestor, as Live Science reports. And to this day, we share about 14,000 genes.

In fact, in terms of genetic makeup, we are 70 percent similar, according to the findings of a new study.

Humans, meet your slithering underwater cousins.

An adult acorn worm with its proboscis on the bottom right and tail on the top left.
An adult acorn worm with its proboscis on the bottom right and tail on the top left.
Ariel Pani/Marine Biological Laboratory

For the study, published in the journal Nature, researchers analyzed genes from two acorn worm species collected off Hawaii and from the Atlantic Ocean.

As Berkeley News reports, the newly sequenced genomes are shedding light on the evolution of pharyngeal slits (which acorn worms use to filter food from seawater) into gills and then into the pharynx, the organ that gives humans the ability to bite, chew, swallow and speak.

“The presence of these slits in acorn worms and vertebrates tells us that our last common ancestor also had them, and was likely a filter feeder like acorn worms today,” Daniel Rokhsar, a leader of the sequencing effort and a University of California Berkeley professor, told Berkeley News.

These worms aren't the only bizarre critters humans share a significant percentage of genes with.

While numbers vary depending on the source, here's a look at just how similar our DNA is to everything from chimpanzees to yeast.

Gravity Giant Productions via Getty Images
Chimps -- our closest relative -- share about 98 percent of our genes.
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Your friendly feline companion shares about 90 percent of human DNA.
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Man's best friend shares about 84 percent of iDNA with humans.
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Mooo-ve over acorn worm -- cows share about 80 percent of our DNA.
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About 75 percent of mouse genes have equivalents in humans.
Visuals Unlimited, Inc./Inga Spence via Getty Images
We share about 73 percent of our genetic code with zebrafish.
Human DNA is about 69 percent shared with these little guys.
Fruit Flies
The fruit fly shares about 60 percent of its DNA with humans.
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About 60 percent of chicken genes correspond to a similar human gene.
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How's this for bizarre? Bananas and humans -- 50 percent.
Honey Bees
Buzzing right around, bees share about 44 percent of human DNA.
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We share about 26 percent of our "housekeeping" genes with these single-cell organisms.
Mustard Grass
We share approximately 15 percent of our DNA with this plant.

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