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Recent reconfiguration of an ancient developmental gene regulatory network in Heliocidaris sea urchins

Davidson PL, Guo H, Swart JS, Massri AJ, Edgar A, Wang L, Berrio A, Devens HR, Koop D, Cisternas P, Zhang H, Zhang Y, Byrne M, Fan G, Wray GA
Nat Ecol Evol. 2022;[Epub] doi:10.1038/s41559-022-01906-9
Changes in developmental gene regulatory networks (dGRNs) underlie much of the diversity of life, but the evolutionary mechanisms that operate on regulatory interactions remain poorly understood. Closely related species with extreme phenotypic divergence provide a valuable window into the genetic and molecular basis for changes in dGRNs and their relationship to adaptive changes in organismal traits. Here we analyse genomes, epigenomes and transcriptomes during early development in two Heliocidaris sea urchin species that exhibit highly divergent life histories and in an outgroup species. Positive selection and chromatin accessibility modifications within putative regulatory elements are enriched on the branch leading to the derived life history, particularly near dGRN genes. Single-cell transcriptomes reveal a dramatic delay in cell fate specification in the derived state, which also has far fewer open chromatin regions, especially near conserved cell fate specification genes. Experimentally perturbing key transcription factors reveals profound evolutionary changes to early embryonic patterning events, disrupting regulatory interactions previously conserved for ~225 million years. These results demonstrate that natural selection can rapidly reshape developmental gene expression on a broad scale when selective regimes abruptly change. More broadly, even highly conserved dGRNs and patterning mechanisms in the early embryo remain evolvable under appropriate ecological circumstances.
Not Epub
Organism or Cell Type: 
Heliocidaris erythrogramma (sea urchin)
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