Citation: Erkenbrack, E. M. (2017). Divergence of ectodermal and mesodermal gene regulatory network linkages in early development of sea urchins. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 113(46), E7202-E7211.
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.
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.
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