Citation: Thompson, J.R., Erkenbrack, E. M. Hinman, V.F., McCauley, B., Petsios, E., and Bottjer, D.J. (2017). Paleogenomics of echinoids reveals an ancient origin for the double-negative specification of micromeres in sea urchins. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences U S A, in press.
Reorganization of sea urchin gene regulatory networks at least 268 million years ago as revealed by oldest fossil cidaroid echinoid
Echinoids, or sea urchins, are rare in the Palaeozoic fossil record, and thus the details regarding the early diversification of crown group echinoids are unclear. Here we report on the earliest probable crown group echinoid from the fossil record, recovered from Permian (Roadian-Capitanian) rocks of west Texas, which has important implications for the timing of the divergence of crown group echinoids. The presence of apophyses and rigidly sutured interambulacral areas with two columns of plates indicates this species is a cidaroid echinoid. The species, Eotiaris guadalupensis, n. sp. is therefore the earliest stem group cidaroid. The occurrence of this species in Roadian strata pushes back the divergence of cidaroids and euechinoids, the clades that comprise all living echinoids, to at least 268.8 Ma, ten million years older than the previously oldest known cidaroid.
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.