Vertebrates they form a diverse group of species that have colonized almost all of the planet's ecosystems. For years, the scientific community has debated the changes in the genome that allowed this animal evolutionary success.
Finally, an international team of scientists has achieved uncover the mechanisms that facilitated this transition from invertebrates to vertebrates.
The team, co-led by Spanish researchers from the Higher Council for Scientific Research (CSIC), the Center for Genomic Regulation (CRG) and the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS), has described in detail in its publication the processes that allowed the development of much more complex animal species.
In sum, this complexity resides in a unique set of regulatory systems and functions of genes, which allows us to be made up of hundreds of extremely specialized cells, tissues and organs.
“In a similar way to studies carried out in humans, our work gives us a global vision of the different regulatory layers of the genome and describes in detail the origin of the unique characteristics of the genomic regulation of vertebrates, which gave rise to organisms with a morphology much more complex”Says José Luis Gómez-Skarmeta, one of the leaders of the work of the Andalusian Center for Developmental Biology, a joint center between the CSIC and the Pablo de Olavide University.
Although the regulation of genes responsible for basic anatomy are highly conserved between species, vertebrates incorporated more regulatory regions that allowed the acquisition of new functions.
The analysis, which has been published in the Nature magazine, reveals two main differences that distinguish vertebrates from other species.
“First, we have seen that our genes have a much more complex regulation. On the other hand, we also have copies of genes that originally performed general functions, but which in vertebrates have specialized in specific functions”, Explains Manuel Irimia, group leader at CRG and one of the project leaders.
“In most cases, there are copies of genes that specialize their function in specific tissues. This is particularly evident in the brain, where new functions have been incorporated that have been essential for the evolutionary success of vertebrates.”Adds Ignacio Maeso, also a researcher at the Andalusian Center for Developmental Biology and one of the first authors of the work.
The amphioxus as an evolutionary model
The species chosen for the study were zebrafish and madaka, as well as frog, chicken, mouse and human. In addition, the amphioxus genome, a species close to this transition, in order to understand the origin of these mechanisms so characteristic in vertebrates.
“The amphioxus is an organism that has been used as a model in research since the 19th century. Its genome has evolved very slowly and without the duplications that vertebrates have. For this reason, the amphox serves as a reference in evolutionary comparisons to understand the origin of our lineage.”, Says Héctor Escriva, one of the work leaders and researcher at Sorbonne Université and CNRS.
The work has had the participation of laboratories in France, the United Kingdom, Australia, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Japan, China, Portugal, Italy, Taiwan, Norway and the United States, and represents a unprecedented resource for the scientific community, which will serve both to delve into the functional genomic elements conserved between species and to study the changes that have led to the complexity of vertebrates.
Marletaz et al. "Amphioxus functional genomics and the origins of vertebrate gene regulation", November 2018, Nature, DOI: 10.1038 / s41586-018-0734-6
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