Evidence for stasis and not genetic piracy in developmental expression patterns of Branchiostoma lanceolatum and Branchiostoma floridae, two amphioxus species that have evolved independently over the course of 200 Myr

Ildiko Somorjai, Stephanie Bertrand, Alain Camasses, Anne Haguenauer, Hector Escriva

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

48 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Cephalochordates, the most basal extant group in the phylum Chordata, are represented chiefly by about 20 species of the genus Branchiostoma, commonly called amphioxus or lancelets. In recent years, insights into the evolutionary origin of the vertebrates have been gained from molecular genetic studies during the development of three of these amphioxus species (Branchiostoma floridae in North America, Branchiostoma lanceolatum in Europe, and Branchiostoma belcheri in East Asia). In spite of an estimated divergence time of 100-200 Myr among these species, all three are remarkably similar morphologically, and students of amphioxus have tacitly assumed that such resemblances arise during ontogeny from nearly identical networks of developmental genes. We felt that this assumption needed to be reexamined because instances are known-even in comparisons of closely related species-where characters seeming homologous on the basis of morphology actually develop under the control of conspicuously divergent genetic programs (a phenomenon termed "genetic piracy"). In the present work, we tested the hypothesis that morphological similarities reflect strict conservation of developmentally important genes' expression patterns in order to assess whether the developmental genetics of different amphioxus species show evidence of genetic piracy. To these ends, we cloned 18 genes implicated in different developmental functions in B. lanceolatum and compared their gene expression patterns with the known expression patterns of their orthologous genes in B. floridae. We show that, for the most part, conservation of gene expression parallels that of morphology in these two species. We also identified some differences in gene expression, likely reflecting experimental sensitivity, with the exception of Pax1/9, which may result from true developmental specificities in each amphioxus species. Our results demonstrate that morphological conservation reflects stasis in developmental gene expression patterns and find no evidence for genetic piracy. Thus, different species of amphioxus appear to be very similar, not only morphologically, but also in the genetic programs directing the development of their structural features. Moreover, we provide the first catalogue of gene expression data for the European species, B. lanceolatum.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)703-713
Number of pages11
JournalDevelopment Genes and Evolution
Volume218
Issue number11-12
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2008

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