skip to main content


The NSF Public Access Repository (NSF-PAR) system and access will be unavailable from 11:00 PM ET on Friday, September 29 until 11:59 PM ET on Saturday, September 30 due to maintenance. We apologize for the inconvenience.

Search for: All records

Award ID contains: 1929934

Note: When clicking on a Digital Object Identifier (DOI) number, you will be taken to an external site maintained by the publisher. Some full text articles may not yet be available without a charge during the embargo (administrative interval).
What is a DOI Number?

Some links on this page may take you to non-federal websites. Their policies may differ from this site.

  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 million 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. 
    more » « less
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available October 1, 2023
  2. Wittkopp, 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, morphogenesis, and development of other derived traits, suggesting these evolutionary modifications have been consequential for phenotypic evolution in H. erythrogramma. Collectively, our results demonstrate that selective pressures imposed by changes in developmental life history rapidly reshape the cis-regulatory landscape of core developmental genes to generate novel traits and embryonic programs. 
    more » « less
  3. 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. 
    more » « less
  4. null (Ed.)
  5. 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, 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. 
    more » « less
  6. Abstract 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. 
    more » « less