Gene expression in bryozoan larvae suggest a fundamental importance of pre-patterned blastemic cells in the bryozoan life-cycle
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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Background: Bryozoa is a clade of aquatic protostomes. The bryozoan life cycle typically comprises a larval stage, which metamorphoses into a sessile adult that proliferates by asexual budding to form colonies. The homology of bryozoan larvae with other protostome larvae is enigmatic. Bryozoan larvae exhibit blastemic tissues that contribute to build the adult during morphogenesis. However, it remains unclear if the cells of these tissues are pre-determined according to their future fate or if the cells are undifferentiated, pluripotent stem cells. Gene expression studies can help to identify molecular patterning of larval and adult tissues and enlighten the evolution of bryozoan life cycle stages. Results: We investigated the spatial expression of 13 developmental genes in the larval stage of the gymnolaemate bryozoan Bugula neritina. We found most genes expressed in discrete regions in larval blastemic tissues that form definitive components of the adult body plan. Only two of the 13 genes, BnTropomyosin and BnFoxAB, were exclusively expressed in larval tissues that are discarded during metamorphosis. Conclusions: Our results suggest that the larval blastemas in Bugula are pre-patterned according to their future fate in the adult. The gene expression patterns indicate that some of the bryozoan blastemas can be interpreted to correspond to homologous adult tissues of other animals. This study challenges an earlier proposed view that metazoan larvae share homologous undifferentiated “set-aside cells”, and instead points to an independent origin of the bryozoan larval stage with respect to other lophotrochozoans.