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Creators/Authors contains: "Shubin, Neil H."

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  1. Blinking, the transient occlusion of the eye by one or more membranes, serves several functions including wetting, protecting, and cleaning the eye. This behavior is seen in nearly all living tetrapods and absent in other extant sarcopterygian lineages suggesting that it might have arisen during the water-to-land transition. Unfortunately, our understanding of the origin of blinking has been limited by a lack of known anatomical correlates of the behavior in the fossil record and a paucity of comparative functional studies. To understand how and why blinking originates, we leverage mudskippers (Oxudercinae), a clade of amphibious fishes that have convergently evolved blinking. Using microcomputed tomography and histology, we analyzed two mudskipper species, Periophthalmus barbarus and Periophthalmodon septemradiatus , and compared them to the fully aquatic round goby, Neogobius melanostomus . Study of gross anatomy and epithelial microstructure shows that mudskippers have not evolved novel musculature or glands to blink. Behavioral analyses show the blinks of mudskippers are functionally convergent with those of tetrapods: P. barbarus blinks more often under high-evaporation conditions to wet the eye, a blink reflex protects the eye from physical insult, and a single blink can fully clean the cornea of particulates. Thus, eye retraction in concert with a passive occlusal membrane can achieve functions associated with life on land. Osteological correlates of eye retraction are present in the earliest limbed vertebrates, suggesting blinking capability. In both mudskippers and tetrapods, therefore, the origin of this multifunctional innovation is likely explained by selection for increasingly terrestrial lifestyles. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available May 2, 2024
  2. Preaxial dominance in the mesopodium is limited to distal carpals/tarsals and facilitates digit reduction in early tetrapods. 
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  3. The origin and diversification of appendage types is a central question in vertebrate evolution. Understanding the genetic mechanisms that underlie fin and limb development can reveal relationships between different appendages. Here we demonstrate, using chemical genetics, a mutually agonistic interaction between Fgf and Shh genes in the developing dorsal fin of the channel catfish, Ictalurus punctatus . We also find that Fgf8 and Shh orthologs are expressed in the apical ectodermal ridge and zone of polarizing activity, respectively, in the median fins of representatives from other major vertebrate lineages. These findings demonstrate the importance of this feedback loop in median fins and offer developmental evidence for a median fin-first scenario for vertebrate paired appendage origins. 
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  4. Abstract Background

    Microbial transmission from parent to offspring is hypothesized to be widespread in vertebrates. However, evidence for this is limited as many evolutionarily important clades remain unexamined. There is currently no data on the microbiota associated with any Chondrichthyan species during embryonic development, despite the global distribution, ecological importance, and phylogenetic position of this clade. In this study, we take the first steps towards filling this gap by investigating the microbiota associated with embryonic development in the little skate,Leucoraja erinacea,a common North Atlantic species and popular system for chondrichthyan biology.


    To assess the potential for bacterial transmission in an oviparous chondrichthyan, we used 16S rRNA amplicon sequencing to characterize the microbial communities associated with the skin, gill, and egg capsule of the little skate,at six points during ontogeny. Community composition was analyzed using the QIIME2 pipeline and microbial continuity between stages was tracked using FEAST.


    We identify site-specific and stage-specific microbiota dominated by the bacterial phylaProteobacteriaandBacteroidetes. This composition is similar to, but distinct from, that of previously published data on the adult microbiota of other chondrichthyan species. Our data reveal that the skate egg capsule harbors a highly diverse bacterial community–particularly on the internal surface of the capsule–and facilitates intergenerational microbial transfer to the offspring. Embryonic skin and external gill tissues host similar bacterial communities; the skin and gill communities later diverge as the internal gills and skin denticles develop.


    Our study is the first exploration of the chondrichthyan microbiota throughout ontogeny and provides the first evidence of vertical transmission in this group.

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  5. Abstract

    Living gars are a small clade of seven species that occupy an important position on the actinopterygian phylogenetic tree as members of Holostei, sister‐group to teleosts, and exhibit many plesiomorphic traits used to interpret and reconstruct early osteichthyan feeding mechanisms. Previous studies of gar feeding kinematics have focused on the ram‐based, lateral‐snapping mode of prey capture found in the narrow‐snoutedLepisosteusgenus, whereas this study focuses on a member of the broad‐snoutedAtractosteussister‐genus, the alligator gar (Atractosteus spatula, Lacépède, 1803). High‐speed videography reveals that the feeding system of alligator gars is capable of rapid expansion from anterior to posterior, timed in a way to generate suction, counteract the effects of a bow‐wave during ram‐feeding, and direct a unidirectional flow of water through the feeding system. Reconstructed contrast‐enhanced μCT‐based cranial anatomy and three‐dimensional modeling of linkage mechanics show that a lateral‐sliding palatoquadrate, flexible intrasuspensorial joint, pivoting interhyal, and retractable pectoral girdle increase the range of motion and expansive capabilities of the alligator gar feeding mechanism. Reconstructions of muscular anatomy, inferences from in vivo kinematics, and in situ manipulations show that input from the hyoid constrictors and hypaxials play an important role in decoupling and modulating the dual roles of the sternohyoideus during feeding: hyoid retraction (jaw opening) and hyoid rotation (pharyngeal expansion). The alligator gar possesses an intricate feeding mechanism, capable of precise control with plesiomorphic muscles that represent one of the many ways the ancestral osteichthyan feeding mechanism has been modified for prey capture.

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