Developmental regulatory genes and echinoderm evolution.
Modified interactions among developmental regulatory genes and changes in their expression domains are likely to be an important part of the developmental basis for evolutionary changes in morphology. Although developmental regulatory genes are now being studied in an increasing number of taxa, there has been little attempt to analyze the resulting data within an explicit phylogenetic context. Here we present comparative analyses of expression data from regulatory genes in the phylum Echinodermata, considering the implications for understanding both echinoderm evolution as well as the evolution of regulatory genes in general. Reconstructing the independent evolutionary histories of regulatory genes, their expression domains, their developmental roles, and the structures in which they are expressed reveals a number of distinct evolutionary patterns. A few of these patterns correspond to interpretations common in the literature, whereas others have received little prior mention. Together, the analyses indicate that the evolution of echinoderms involved: (1) the appearance of many apomorphic developmental roles and expression domains, some of which have plesiomorphic bilateral symmetry and others of which have apomorphic radial symmetry or left-right asymmetry; (2) the loss of some developmental roles and expression domains thought to be plesiomorphic for Bilateria; and (3) the retention of some developmental roles thought to be plesiomorphic for Bilateria, although with modification in expression domains. Some of the modifications within the Echinodermata concern adult structures; others, transient larval structures. Some changes apparently appeared early in echinoderm evolution (> 450 Ma), whereas others probably happened more recently (< 50 Ma). Cases of likely convergence in expression domains suggest caution when using developmental regulatory genes to make inferences about homology among morphological structures of distantly related taxa.
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