Wnt evolution and function shuffling in liberal and conservative chordate genomes

Ildiko M. L. Somorjai, Josep Marti-Solans, Miriam Diaz-Gracia, Hiroki Nishida, Kaoru Imai, Hector Escriva, Cristian Cañestro, Ricard Albalat

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


Background: What impact gene loss has on the evolution of developmental processes, and how function shuffling has affected retained genes driving essential biological processes, remain open questions in the fields of genome evolution and EvoDevo. To investigate these problems, we have analyzed the evolution of the Wnt ligand repertoire in the chordate phylum as a case study.

Results:  We conduct an exhaustive survey of Wnt genes in genomic databases, identifying 156 Wnt genes in 13 non-vertebrate chordates. This represents the most complete Wnt gene catalog of the chordate subphyla and has allowed us to resolve previous ambiguities about the orthology of many Wnt genes, including the identification of WntA for the first time in chordates. Moreover, we create the first complete expression atlas for the Wnt family during amphioxus development, providing a useful resource to investigate the evolution of Wnt expression throughout the radiation of chordates.

Conclusions:  Our data underscore extraordinary genomic stasis in cephalochordates, which contrasts with the liberal and dynamic evolutionary patterns of gene loss and duplication in urochordate genomes. Our analysis has allowed us to infer ancestral Wnt functions shared among all chordates, several cases of function shuffling among Wnt paralogs, as well as unique expression domains for Wnt genes that likely reflect functional innovations in each chordate lineage. Finally, we propose a potential relationship between the evolution of WntA and the evolution of the mouth in chordates.
Original languageEnglish
Article number98
Number of pages17
JournalGenome Biology
Publication statusPublished - 25 Jul 2018


  • Wnt evolution
  • Genome stasis
  • Gene loss
  • Function shuffling
  • Chordate WntA
  • Ascidians
  • Vertebrates
  • Amphioxus


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