Centipedes are the many-legged creatures that startle us in our homes and gardens. They are members of the arthropods, a group with numerous species including insects, spiders and other animals.

Until now, the only class of arthropods not represented by a sequenced genome was the myriapods, which include centipedes and millipedes.

The researchers sequenced the genome of the centipede Strigamia maritima, because its primitive features can help us understand more complex arthropods.

The genetic data reveal how creatures transitioned from their original dwelling-place in the sea to living on land, researchers said.

"The use of different evolutionary solutions to similar problems shows that myriapods and insects adapted to dry land independently of each other," said Professor Ariel Chipman, senior co-author of the study and project leader at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem's Alexander Silberman Institute of Life Science.

"For example, comparing the centipede and insect genomes shows that they independently evolved different solutions to the same problem shared by all land-dwelling creatures - that of living in dry air," said Chipman.

The study found that despite being closely related to insects, the centipede lacks the olfactory gene family used by insects to smell the air, and thus developed its own air-sniffing ability by expanding other gene families not present in insects.

Chipman said this specific group of centipedes live underground and have lost their eyes, together with almost all vision genes and genes involved in the body's internal clock.

They maintain enhanced sensory capabilities enabling them to recognise their environment and capture prey.

The study was published in the journal PLoS Biology.

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