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Transcriptomic analysis of sea star development through metamorphosis to the highly derived pentameral body plan with a focus on neural transcription factorsAbstract The Echinodermata is characterized by a secondarily evolved pentameral body plan. While the evolutionary origin of this body plan has been the subject of debate, the molecular mechanisms underlying its development are poorly understood. We assembled a de novo developmental transcriptome from the embryo through metamorphosis in the sea star Parvulastra exigua. We use the asteroid model as it represents the basal-type echinoderm body architecture. Global variation in gene expression distinguished the gastrula profile and showed that metamorphic and juvenile stages were more similar to each other than to the pre-metamorphic stages, pointing to the marked changes that occur during metamorphosis. Differential expression and gene ontology (GO) analyses revealed dynamic changes in gene expression throughout development and the transition to pentamery. Many GO terms enriched during late metamorphosis were related to neurogenesis and signalling. Neural transcription factor genes exhibited clusters with distinct expression patterns. A suite of these genes was up-regulated during metamorphosis (e.g. Pax6, Eya, Hey, NeuroD, FoxD, Mbx, and Otp). In situ hybridization showed expression of neural genes in the CNS and sensory structures. Our results provide a foundation to understand the metamorphic transition in echinoderms and the genes involved in development and evolution of pentamery.
Evolution is proposed to result, in part, from acquisition of new developmental programs. One such example is the appearance of the micromeres in a sea urchin that form by an asymmetric cell division at the 4thembryonic cleavage and function as a major signaling center in the embryo. Micromeres are not present in other echinoderms and thus are considered as a derived feature, yet its acquisition mechanism is unknown. Here, we report that the polarity factor AGS and its associated proteins are responsible for micromere formation. Evolutionary modifications of AGS protein seem to have provided the cortical recruitment and binding of AGS to the vegetal cortex, contributing to formation of micromeres in the sea urchins. Indeed, introduction of sea urchin AGS into the sea star embryo induces asymmetric cell divisions, suggesting that the molecular evolution of AGS protein is key in the transition of echinoderms to micromere formation and the current developmental style of sea urchins not seen in other echinoderms.
As analyses of developmental mechanisms extend to ever more species, it becomes important to understand not just what is conserved or altered during evolution, but why. Closely related species that exhibit extreme phenotypic divergence can be uniquely informative in this regard. A case in point is the sea urchin genus Heliocidaris, which contains species that recently evolved a life history involving nonfeeding larvae following nearly half a billion years of prior evolution with feeding larvae. The resulting shift in selective regimes produced rapid and surprisingly extensive changes in developmental mechanisms that are otherwise highly conserved among echinoderm species. The magnitude and extent of these changes challenges the notion that conservation of early development in echinoderms is largely due to internal constraints that prohibit modification and instead suggests that natural selection actively maintains stability of inherently malleable trait developmental mechanisms over immense time periods. Knowing how and why natural selection changed during the evolution of nonfeeding larvae can also reveal why developmental mechanisms do and do not change in particular ways.
Lessons from a transcription factor: Alx1 provides insights into gene regulatory networks, cellular reprogramming, and cell type evolutionThe skeleton-forming cells of sea urchins and other echinoderms have been studied by developmental biologists as models of cell specification and morphogenesis for many decades. The gene regulatory network (GRN) deployed in the embryonic skeletogenic cells of euechinoid sea urchins is one of the best understood in any developing animal. Recent comparative studies have leveraged the information contained in this GRN, bringing renewed attention to the diverse patterns of skeletogenesis within the phylum and the evolutionary basis for this diversity. The homeodomain-containing transcription factor, Alx1, was originally shown to be a core component of the skeletogenic GRN of the sea urchin embryo. Alx1 has since been found to be key regulator of skeletal cell identity throughout the phylum. As such, Alx1 is currently serving as a lens through which multiple developmental processes are being investigated. These include not only GRN organization and evolution, but also cell reprogramming, cell type evolution, and the gene regulatory control of morphogenesis. This review summarizes our current state of knowledge concerning Alx1 and highlights the insights it is yielding into these important developmental and evolutionary processes.
Evolutionary Changes in the Chromatin Landscape Contribute to Reorganization of a Developmental Gene Network During Rapid Life History Evolution in Sea UrchinsWittkopp, Patricia (Ed.)Abstract Chromatin configuration is highly dynamic during embryonic development in animals, exerting an important point of control in transcriptional regulation. Yet there exists remarkably little information about the role of evolutionary changes in chromatin configuration to the evolution of gene expression and organismal traits. Genome-wide assays of chromatin configuration, coupled with whole-genome alignments, can help address this gap in knowledge in several ways. In this study we present a comparative analysis of regulatory element sequences and accessibility throughout embryogenesis in three sea urchin species with divergent life histories: a lecithotroph Heliocidaris erythrogramma, a closely related planktotroph H. tuberculata, and a distantly related planktotroph Lytechinus variegatus. We identified distinct epigenetic and mutational signatures of evolutionary modifications to the function of putative cis-regulatory elements in H. erythrogramma that have accumulated nonuniformly throughout the genome, suggesting selection, rather than drift, underlies many modifications associated with the derived life history. Specifically, regulatory elements composing the sea urchin developmental gene regulatory network are enriched for signatures of positive selection and accessibility changes which may function to alter binding affinity and access of developmental transcription factors to these sites. Furthermore, regulatory element changes often correlate with divergent expression patterns of genes involved in cell type specification,more »