Citation: Erkenbrack, E. M., Ako-Asare, K., Miller, E., Tekelenburg, S., Thompson, J. R., & Romano, L. (2016). Ancestral state reconstruction by comparative analysis of a GRN kernel operating in echinoderms. Development Genes and Evolution, 226(1), 37-45.
This work provides direct evidence of evolutionary rewiring of gene-regulatory circuitry accompanying divergence of two subclasses of echinoderm, the cidaroid and euechinoid sea urchins. These forms descend from a known common Paleo- zoic ancestor, and their embryos develop differently, offering an opportunity to probe the basic evolutionary process by which clade divergence occurs at the gene-regulatory net- work (GRN) level. We carried out a systematic analysis of the use of particular genes participating in embryonic skeleto- genic cell specification, building on an established euechinoid developmental GRN. This study revealed that the well-known and elegantly configured regulatory circuitry that underlies skeletogenic specification in modern sea urchins is largely a novel evolutionary invention. The results dramatically dis- play extensive regulatory changes in a specific developmental GRN, underlying an incidence of cladistic divergence at the subclass level.
Mechanistic understanding of evolutionary divergence in animal body plans devolves from analysis of those developmental processes that, in forms descendant from a common ancestor, are responsible for their morphological differences. The last common ancestor of the two extant subclasses of sea urchins, i.e., euechinoids and cidaroids, existed well before the Permian/Triassic extinction (252 mya). Subsequent evolutionary divergence of these clades offers in principle a rare opportunity to solve the developmental regulatory events underlying a defined evolutionary divergence process.
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