LONDON An international team of more than 100 researchers has mapped the genome of the centipede and found that, while it easily outpaces humans on number of legs, it falls short when it comes to genes.
Sequencing the genome of Strigamia maritima, a northern European centipede, the 106-strong team found it has around 15,000 genes - some 7,000 fewer than a human.
The study, published in the journal PLOS Biology, also found that this centipede appears to have lost the genes encoding any of the known light receptors used by animals, and all genes controlling circadian rhythm, or the body clock.
"Strigamia live underground and have no eyes, so it's not surprising that many of the genes for light receptors are missing," said Michael Akam, a zoologist at Britain's University of Cambridge who helped lead the research. "But they behave as if they are hiding from the light. They must have some alternative way of detecting when they are exposed."
"It's curious, too, that this creature appears to have no body clock - or if it does, it must use a system very different to other animals."
Despite their name, centipedes never have exactly a hundred legs. Strigamia maritima, which lives in coastal habitats, can have between 45 and 51 pairs of legs, but the number of pairs is always odd.
(Reporting by Kate Kelland; Editing by Kevin Liffey)