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Evolutionary convergence in Otx expression in the pentameral adult rudiment in direct-developing sea urchins

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Convergence is a significant evolutionary phenomenon. Arrival at similar morphologies from different starting points indicates a strong role for natural selection in shaping morphological phenotypes. There is no evidence yet of convergence in the developmental mechanisms that underlie the evolution of convergent developmental phenotypes. Here we report the expression domains in sea urchins of two important developmental regulatory genes (Orthodenticle and Runt), and show evidence of molecular convergence in the evolution of direct-developing sea urchins. Indirect development is ancestral in sea urchins. Evolutionary loss of the feeding pluteus stage and precocious formation of the radially symmetric juvenile has evolved independently in numerous sea urchin lineages, thus direct development is an evolutionary convergence. Indirect-developing species do not express Otx during the formation of their five primordial tube feet, the ancestral condition. However, each direct-developing urchin examined does express Otx in the tube feet. Otx expression in the radial arms of direct-developing sea urchins is thus convergent, and may indicate a specific need for Otx use in direct development, a constraint that would make direct development less able to evolve than if there were multiple molecular means for it to evolve. In contrast, Runt is expressed in tube feet in both direct- and indirect-developing species. Because echinoderms are closely related to chordates and postdate the protostome/deuterostome divergence, they must have evolved from bilaterally symmetrical ancestors. Arthropods and chordates use Otx in patterning their anterior axis, and Runt has multiple roles including embryonic patterning in arthropods, and blood and bone cell differentiation in vertebrates. Runt has apparently been co-opted in echinoderms for patterning of pentamery, and Otx in pentameral patterning among direct-developing echinoids. The surprisingly dynamic nature of Otx evolution reinvigorates debate on the role of natural selection vs shared ancestry in the evolution of novel features.

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This work was funded in part by NIH and NSF grants to R.A. Raff.

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Correspondence to M. G. Nielsen.

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Edited by D. Tautz

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Nielsen, M.G., Popodi, E., Minsuk, S. et al. Evolutionary convergence in Otx expression in the pentameral adult rudiment in direct-developing sea urchins. Dev Genes Evol 213, 73–82 (2003). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00427-003-0299-7

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  • Otx
  • Runt
  • Sea urchins
  • Convergence
  • Developmental constraint