bioRxiv. 2019:[preprint] doi:10.1101/712216
Developmental gene regulatory networks (GRNs) describe the interactions among gene products that drive the differential transcriptional and cell regulatory states that pattern the embryo and specify distinct cell fates. GRNs are often deeply conserved, but whether this is the product of constraint inherent to the network structure or stabilizing selection remains unclear. We have constructed the first formal GRN for early development in Heliocidaris erythrogramma, a species with dramatically accelerated, direct development. This life history switch has important ecological consequences, arose rapidly, and has evolved independently many times in echinoderms, suggesting it is a product of selection. We find that H. erythrogramma exhibits dramatic differences in GRN topology compared with ancestral, indirect-developing sea urchins. In particular, the GRN sub-circuit that directs the early and autonomous commitment of skeletogenic cell precursors in indirect developers appears to be absent in H. erythrogramma, a particularly striking change in relation to both the prior conservation of this sub-circuit and the key role that these cells play ancestrally in early development as the embryonic signaling center. These results show that even highly conserved molecular mechanisms of early development can be substantially reconfigured in a relatively short evolutionary time span, suggesting that selection rather than constraint is responsible for the striking conservation of the GRN among other sea urchins.
Organism or Cell Type:
Heliocidaris erythrogramma (sea urchin)