Document Type


Publication Date


Publication Title

Nat Commun


Animals; Embryo, Nonmammalian; Evolution, Molecular; Gastrulation; Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental; Gene Regulatory Networks; Mesoderm; Models, Genetic; Sea Urchins; Species Specificity; Starfish; Transcription Factors


The extensive array of morphological diversity among animal taxa represents the product of millions of years of evolution. Morphology is the output of development, therefore phenotypic evolution arises from changes to the topology of the gene regulatory networks (GRNs) that control the highly coordinated process of embryogenesis. A particular challenge in understanding the origins of animal diversity lies in determining how GRNs incorporate novelty while preserving the overall stability of the network, and hence, embryonic viability. Here we assemble a comprehensive GRN for endomesoderm specification in the sea star from zygote through gastrulation that corresponds to the GRN for sea urchin development of equivalent territories and stages. Comparison of the GRNs identifies how novelty is incorporated in early development. We show how the GRN is resilient to the introduction of a transcription factor, pmar1, the inclusion of which leads to a switch between two stable modes of Delta-Notch signaling. Signaling pathways can function in multiple modes and we propose that GRN changes that lead to switches between modes may be a common evolutionary mechanism for changes in embryogenesis. Our data additionally proposes a model in which evolutionarily conserved network motifs, or kernels, may function throughout development to stabilize these signaling transitions.


Institute for Systems Biology

Included in

Genomics Commons