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  1. Changes in developmental gene regulatory networks (dGRNs) underlie much of the diversity of life, but the evolutionary mechanisms that operate on interactions with these networks remain poorly understood. Closely related species with extreme phenotypic divergence provide a valuable window into the genetic and molecular basis for changes in dGRNs and their relationship to adaptive changes in organismal traits. Here we analyze genomes, epigenomes, and transcriptomes during early development in two sea urchin species in the genus Heliocidaris that exhibit highly divergent life histories and in an outgroup species. Signatures of positive selection and changes in chromatin status within putative gene regulatory elements are both enriched on the branch leading to the derived life history, and particularly so near core dGRN genes; in contrast, positive selection within protein-coding regions have at most a modest enrichment in branch and function. Single-cell transcriptomes reveal a dramatic delay in cell fate specification in the derived state, which also has far fewer open chromatin regions, especially near dGRN genes with conserved roles in cell fate specification. Experimentally perturbing the function of three key transcription factors reveals profound evolutionary changes in the earliest events that pattern the embryo, disrupting regulatory interactions previously conserved for ~225 millionmore »years. Together, these results demonstrate that natural selection can rapidly reshape developmental gene expression on a broad scale when selective regimes abruptly change and that even highly conserved dGRNs and patterning mechanisms in the early embryo remain evolvable under appropriate ecological circumstances.« less
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available October 1, 2023
  2. Free, publicly-accessible full text available May 1, 2023
  3. Abstract Lytechinus variegatus is a camarodont sea urchin found widely throughout the western Atlantic Ocean in a variety of shallow-water marine habitats. Its distribution, abundance, and amenability to developmental perturbation make it a popular model for ecologists and developmental biologists. Here, we present a chromosomal-level genome assembly of L. variegatus generated from a combination of PacBio long reads, 10× Genomics sequencing, and HiC chromatin interaction sequencing. We show L. variegatus has 19 chromosomes with an assembly size of 870.4 Mb. The contiguity and completeness of this assembly are reflected by a scaffold length N50 of 45.5 Mb and BUSCO completeness score of 95.5%. Ab initio and transcript-informed gene modeling and annotation identified 27,232 genes with an average gene length of 12.6 kb, comprising an estimated 39.5% of the genome. Repetitive regions, on the other hand, make up 45.4% of the genome. Physical mapping of well-studied developmental genes onto each chromosome reveals nonrandom spatial distribution of distinct genes and gene families, which provides insight into how certain gene families may have evolved and are transcriptionally regulated in this species. Lastly, aligning RNA-seq and ATAC-seq data onto this assembly demonstrates the value of highly contiguous, complete genome assemblies for functional genomics analyses that is unattainable with fragmented,more »incomplete assemblies. This genome will be of great value to the scientific community as a resource for genome evolution, developmental, and ecological studies of this species and the Echinodermata.« less