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.
Paleogenomics of echinoids reveals an ancient origin for the double-negative specification of micromeres in sea urchins
Establishing a timeline for the evolution of novelties is a common, unifying goal at the intersection of evolutionary and developmental biology. Analyses of gene regulatory networks (GRNs) provides the ability to understand the underlying genetic and developmental mechanisms responsible for the origin of morphological structures both in the development of an individual and across entire evolutionary lineages. Accurately dating GRN novelties, thereby establishing a timeline for GRN evolution, is necessary to answer questions about the rate at which GRNs and their subcircuits evolve, and to tie their evolution to paleoenvironmental and paleoecological changes. Paleogenomics unites the fossil record and all aspects of deep time, with modern genomics and developmental biology to understand the evolution of genomes in evolutionary time. Recent work on the regulatory genomic basis of development in cidaroid echinoids, sand dollars, heart urchins, and other nonmodel echinoderms provides an ideal dataset with which to explore GRN evolution in a comparative framework. Using divergence time estimation and ancestral state reconstructions, we have determined the age of the double-negative gate (DNG), the subcircuit which specifies micromeres and skeletogenic cells in Strongylocentrotus purpuratus. We have determined that the DNG has likely been used for euechinoid echinoid micromere specification since at least the Late Triassic. The innovation of the DNG thus predates the burst of post-Paleozoic echinoid morphological diversification that began in the Early Jurassic. Paleogenomics has wide applicability for the integration of deep time and molecular developmental data, and has wide utility in rigorously establishing timelines for GRN evolution.
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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