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  1. Free, publicly-accessible full text available January 1, 2024
  2. Species retaining ancestral features, such as species called living fossils, are often regarded as less derived than their sister groups, but such discussions are usually based on qualitative enumeration of conserved traits. This approach creates a major barrier, especially when quantifying the degree of phenotypic evolution or degree of derivedness, since it focuses only on commonly shared traits, and newly acquired or lost traits are often overlooked. To provide a potential solution to this problem, especially for inter-species comparison of gene expression profiles, we propose a new method named “derivedness index” to quantify the degree of derivedness. In contrast to the conservation-based approach, which deals with expressions of commonly shared genes among species being compared, the derivedness index also considers those that were potentially lost or duplicated during evolution. By applying our method, we found that the gene expression profiles of penta-radial phases in echinoderm tended to be more highly derived than those of the bilateral phase. However, our results suggest that echinoderms may not have experienced much larger modifications to their developmental systems than chordates, at least at the transcriptomic level. In vertebrates, we found that the mid-embryonic and organogenesis stages were generally less derived than the earlier ormore »later stages, indicating that the conserved phylotypic period is also less derived. We also found genes that potentially explain less derivedness, such as Hox genes. Finally, we highlight technical concerns that may influence the measured transcriptomic derivedness, such as read depth and library preparation protocols, for further improvement of our method through future studies. We anticipate that this index will serve as a quantitative guide in the search for constrained developmental phases or processes.« less
  3. Echinoderms are an exceptional group of bilaterians that develop pentameral adult symmetry from a bilaterally symmetric larva. However, the genetic basis in evolution and development of this unique transformation remains to be clarified. Here we report newly sequenced genomes, developmental transcriptomes, and proteomes of diverse echinoderms including the green sea urchin (L. variegatus), a sea cucumber (A. japonicus), and with particular emphasis on a sister group of the earliest-diverged echinoderms, the feather star (A. japonica). We learned that the last common ancestor of echinoderms retained a well-organized Hox cluster reminiscent of the hemichordate, and had gene sets involved in endoskeleton development. Further, unlike in other animal groups, the most conserved developmental stages were not at the body plan establishing phase, and genes normally involved in bilaterality appear to function in pentameric axis development. These results enhance our understanding of the divergence of protostomes and deuterostomes almost 500 Mya.
  4. Embryonic development is arguably the most complex process an organism undergoes during its lifetime, and understanding this complexity is best approached with a systems-level perspective. The sea urchin has become a highly valuable model organism for understanding developmental specification, morphogenesis, and evolution. As a non-chordate deuterostome, the sea urchin occupies an important evolutionary niche between protostomes and vertebrates. Lytechinus variegatus (Lv) is an Atlantic species that has been well studied, and which has provided important insights into signal transduction, patterning, and morphogenetic changes during embryonic and larval development. The Pacific species, Strongylocentrotus purpuratus (Sp), is another well-studied sea urchin, particularly for gene regulatory networks (GRNs) and cis-regulatory analyses. A well-annotated genome and transcriptome for Sp are available, but similar resources have not been developed for Lv. Here, we provide an analysis of the Lv transcriptome at 11 timepoints during embryonic and larval development. Temporal analysis suggests that the gene regulatory networks that underlie specification are well-conserved among sea urchin species. We show that the major transitions in variation of embryonic transcription divide the developmental time series into four distinct, temporally sequential phases. Our work shows that sea urchin development occurs via sequential intervals of relatively stable gene expression states thatmore »are punctuated by abrupt transitions.« less