Tunicate mitogenomics and phylogenetics: peculiarities of the Herdmania momus mitochondrial genome and support for the new chordate phylogeny.
ABSTRACT: BACKGROUND: Tunicates represent a key metazoan group as the sister-group of vertebrates within chordates. The six complete mitochondrial genomes available so far for tunicates have revealed distinctive features. Extensive gene rearrangements and particularly high evolutionary rates have been evidenced with regard to other chordates. This peculiar evolutionary dynamics has hampered the reconstruction of tunicate phylogenetic relationships within chordates based on mitogenomic data. RESULTS: In order to further understand the atypical evolutionary dynamics of the mitochondrial genome of tunicates, we determined the complete sequence of the solitary ascidian Herdmania momus. This genome from a stolidobranch ascidian presents the typical tunicate gene content with 13 protein-coding genes, 2 rRNAs and 24 tRNAs which are all encoded on the same strand. However, it also presents a novel gene arrangement, highlighting the extreme plasticity of gene order observed in tunicate mitochondrial genomes. Probabilistic phylogenetic inferences were conducted on the concatenation of the 13 mitochondrial protein-coding genes from representatives of major metazoan phyla. We show that whereas standard homogeneous amino acid models support an artefactual sister position of tunicates relative to all other bilaterians, the CAT and CAT+BP site- and time-heterogeneous mixture models place tunicates as the sister-group of vertebrates within monophyletic chordates. Moreover, the reference phylogeny indicates that tunicate mitochondrial genomes have experienced a drastic acceleration in their evolutionary rate that equally affects protein-coding and ribosomal-RNA genes. CONCLUSION: This is the first mitogenomic study supporting the new chordate phylogeny revealed by recent phylogenomic analyses. It illustrates the beneficial effects of an increased taxon sampling coupled with the use of more realistic amino acid substitution models for the reconstruction of animal phylogeny.
Project description:BACKGROUND:Tunicates are the closest relatives of vertebrates and are widely used as models to study the evolutionary developmental biology of chordates. Their phylogeny, however, remains poorly understood, and to date, only the 18S rRNA nuclear gene and mitogenomes have been used to delineate the major groups of tunicates. To resolve their evolutionary relationships and provide a first estimate of their divergence times, we used a transcriptomic approach to build a phylogenomic dataset including all major tunicate lineages, consisting of 258 evolutionarily conserved orthologous genes from representative species. RESULTS:Phylogenetic analyses using site-heterogeneous CAT mixture models of amino acid sequence evolution resulted in a strongly supported tree topology resolving the relationships among four major tunicate clades: (1) Appendicularia, (2) Thaliacea + Phlebobranchia + Aplousobranchia, (3) Molgulidae, and (4) Styelidae + Pyuridae. Notably, the morphologically derived Thaliacea are confirmed as the sister group of the clade uniting Phlebobranchia + Aplousobranchia within which the precise position of the model ascidian genus Ciona remains uncertain. Relaxed molecular clock analyses accommodating the accelerated evolutionary rate of tunicates reveal ancient diversification (~?450-350 million years ago) among the major groups and allow one to compare their evolutionary age with respect to the major vertebrate model lineages. CONCLUSIONS:Our study represents the most comprehensive phylogenomic dataset for the main tunicate lineages. It offers a reference phylogenetic framework and first tentative timescale for tunicates, allowing a direct comparison with vertebrate model species in comparative genomics and evolutionary developmental biology studies.
Project description:Background: Ascidians, a tunicate class, use a mitochondrial genetic code that is distinct from vertebrates and other invertebrates. Though it has been used to translate the coding sequences from other tunicate species on a case-by-case basis, it is has not been investigated whether this can be done systematically. This is an important because a) some tunicate mitochondrial sequences are currently translated with the invertebrate code by repositories such as NCBI GenBank, and b) uncertainties about the genetic code to use can complicate or introduce errors in phylogenetic studies based on translated mitochondrial protein sequences. Methods: We collected publicly available nucleotide sequences for non-ascidian tunicates including appendicularians such as Oikopleura dioica, translated them using the ascidian mitochondrial code, and built multiple sequence alignments covering all tunicate classes. Results: All tunicates studied here appear to translate AGR codons to glycine instead of serine (invertebrates) or as a stop codon (vertebrates), as initially described in ascidians. Among Oikopleuridae, we suggest further possible changes in the use of the ATA (Ile ? Met) and TGA (Trp ? Arg) codons. Conclusions: We recommend using the ascidian mitochondrial code in automatic translation pipelines of mitochondrial sequences for all tunicates. Further investigation is required for additional species-specific differences.
Project description:The ascidian Ciona intestinalis is a marine invertebrate belonging to the sister group of the vertebrates, the tunicates. Its compact genome and simple, experimentally tractable embryos make Ciona well-suited for the study of cell-fate specification in chordates. Tunicate larvae possess a characteristic chordate body plan, and many developmental pathways are conserved between tunicates and vertebrates. Previous studies have shown that FGF signals are essential for neural induction and patterning at sequential steps of Ciona embryogenesis. Here we show that two different ETS family transcription factors, Ets1/2 and Elk1/3/4, have partially redundant activities in the anterior neural plate of gastrulating embryos. Whereas Ets1/2 promotes pigment cell formation in lateral lineages, both Ets1/2 and Elk1/3/4 are involved in the activation of Myt1L in medial lineages and the restriction of Six3/6 expression to the anterior-most regions of the neural tube. We also provide evidence that photoreceptor cells arise from posterior regions of the presumptive sensory vesicle, and do not depend on FGF signaling. Cells previously identified as photoreceptor progenitors instead form ependymal cells and neurons of the larval brain. Our results extend recent findings on FGF-dependent patterning of anterior-posterior compartments in the Ciona central nervous system.
Project description:Tunicates or urochordates-comprising ascidians, larvaceans, and salps-are the only metazoans that can synthesize cellulose, a biological function usually associated with bacteria and plants but not animals. Tunicate cellulose or tunicine is a major component of the outer acellular coverage (tunic) of the entire body of these organisms. Previous studies have suggested that the prokaryotic cellulose synthase gene (CesA) was horizontally transferred into the genome of a tunicate ancestor. However, no convenient tools have been devised to determine whether only tunicates harbor CesA. ORTHOSCOPE is a recently developed tool used to identify orthologous genes and to examine the phylogenic relationship of molecules within major metazoan taxa. The present analysis with this tool revealed the presence of CesA orthologs in all sequenced tunicate genomes but an absence in other metazoan genomes. This supports an evolutionary origin of animal cellulose and provides insights into the evolution of this animal taxon.
Project description:Traditional metazoan phylogeny classifies the Vertebrata as a subphylum of the phylum Chordata, together with two other subphyla, the Urochordata (Tunicata) and the Cephalochordata. The Chordata, together with the phyla Echinodermata and Hemichordata, comprise a major group, the Deuterostomia. Chordates invariably possess a notochord and a dorsal neural tube. Although the origin and evolution of chordates has been studied for more than a century, few authors have intimately discussed taxonomic ranking of the three chordate groups themselves. Accumulating evidence shows that echinoderms and hemichordates form a clade (the Ambulacraria), and that within the Chordata, cephalochordates diverged first, with tunicates and vertebrates forming a sister group. Chordates share tadpole-type larvae containing a notochord and hollow nerve cord, whereas ambulacrarians have dipleurula-type larvae containing a hydrocoel. We propose that an evolutionary occurrence of tadpole-type larvae is fundamental to understanding mechanisms of chordate origin. Protostomes have now been reclassified into two major taxa, the Ecdysozoa and Lophotrochozoa, whose developmental pathways are characterized by ecdysis and trochophore larvae, respectively. Consistent with this classification, the profound dipleurula versus tadpole larval differences merit a category higher than the phylum. Thus, it is recommended that the Ecdysozoa, Lophotrochozoa, Ambulacraria and Chordata be classified at the superphylum level, with the Chordata further subdivided into three phyla, on the basis of their distinctive characteristics.
Project description:BACKGROUND: Within Chordata, the subphyla Vertebrata and Cephalochordata (lancelets) are characterized by a remarkable stability of the mitochondrial (mt) genome, with constancy of gene content and almost invariant gene order, whereas the limited mitochondrial data on the subphylum Tunicata suggest frequent and extensive gene rearrangements, observed also within ascidians of the same genus. RESULTS: To confirm this evolutionary trend and to better understand the evolutionary dynamics of the mitochondrial genome in Tunicata Ascidiacea, we have sequenced and characterized the complete mt genome of two congeneric ascidian species, Phallusia mammillata and Phallusia fumigata (Phlebobranchiata, Ascidiidae). The two mtDNAs are surprisingly rearranged, both with respect to one another and relative to those of other tunicates and chordates, with gene rearrangements affecting both protein-coding and tRNA genes. The new data highlight the extraordinary variability of ascidian mt genome in base composition, tRNA secondary structure, tRNA gene content, and non-coding regions (number, size, sequence and location). Indeed, both Phallusia genomes lack the trnD gene, show loss/acquisition of DHU-arm in two tRNAs, and have a G+C content two-fold higher than other ascidians. Moreover, the mt genome of P. fumigata presents two identical copies of trnI, an extra tRNA gene with uncertain amino acid specificity, and four almost identical sequence regions. In addition, a truncated cytochrome b, lacking a C-terminal tail that commonly protrudes into the mt matrix, has been identified as a new mt feature probably shared by all tunicates. CONCLUSION: The frequent occurrence of major gene order rearrangements in ascidians both at high taxonomic level and within the same genus makes this taxon an excellent model to study the mechanisms of gene rearrangement, and renders the mt genome an invaluable phylogenetic marker to investigate molecular biodiversity and speciation events in this largely unexplored group of basal chordates.
Project description:BACKGROUND:Genomic analysis has upended chordate phylogeny, placing the tunicates as the sister group to the vertebrates. This taxonomic rearrangement raises questions about the emergence of a tunicate/vertebrate ancestor. RESULTS:Characterization of developmental genes uniquely shared by tunicates and vertebrates is one promising approach for deciphering developmental shifts underlying acquisition of novel, ancestral traits. The matrix glycoprotein Fibronectin (FN) has long been considered a vertebrate-specific gene, playing a major instructive role in vertebrate embryonic development. However, the recent computational prediction of an orthologous "vertebrate-like" Fn gene in the genome of a tunicate, Ciona savignyi, challenges this viewpoint suggesting that Fn may have arisen in the shared tunicate/vertebrate ancestor. Here we verify the presence of a tunicate Fn ortholog. Transgenic reporter analysis was used to characterize a Ciona Fn enhancer driving expression in the notochord. Targeted knockdown in the notochord lineage indicates that FN is required for proper convergent extension. CONCLUSIONS:These findings suggest that acquisition of Fn was associated with altered notochord morphogenesis in the vertebrate/tunicate ancestor.
Project description:Asexual propagation and whole body regeneration are forms of nonembryonic development (NED) widespread across animal phyla and central in life history and evolutionary diversification of metazoans. Whereas it is challenging to reconstruct the gains or losses of NED at large phylogenetic scale, comparative studies could benefit from being conducted at more restricted taxonomic scale, in groups for which phylogenetic relationships are well established. The ascidian family of Styelidae encompasses strictly sexually reproducing solitary forms as well as colonial species that combine sexual reproduction with different forms of NED. To date, the phylogenetic relationships between colonial and solitary styelids remain controversial and so is the pattern of NED evolution. In this study, we built an original pipeline to combine eight genomes with 18 de novo assembled transcriptomes and constructed data sets of unambiguously orthologous genes. Using a phylogenomic super-matrix of 4,908 genes from these 26 tunicates we provided a robust phylogeny of this family of chordates, which supports two convergent acquisitions of NED. This result prompted us to further describe the budding process in the species Polyandrocarpa zorritensis, leading to the discovery of a novel mechanism of asexual development. Whereas the pipeline and the data sets produced can be used for further phylogenetic reconstructions in tunicates, the phylogeny provided here sets an evolutionary framework for future experimental studies on the emergence and disappearance of complex characters such as asexual propagation and whole body regeneration.
Project description:Aldehyde dehydrogenases (ALDHs) catabolize toxic aldehydes and process the vitamin A-derived retinaldehyde into retinoic acid (RA), a small diffusible molecule and a pivotal chordate morphogen. In this study, we combine phylogenetic, structural, genomic, and developmental gene expression analyses to examine the evolutionary origins of ALDH substrate preference. Structural modeling reveals that processing of small aldehydes, such as acetaldehyde, by ALDH2, versus large aldehydes, including retinaldehyde, by ALDH1A is associated with small versus large substrate entry channels (SECs), respectively. Moreover, we show that metazoan ALDH1s and ALDH2s are members of a single ALDH1/2 clade and that during evolution, eukaryote ALDH1/2s often switched between large and small SECs after gene duplication, transforming constricted channels into wide opened ones and vice versa. Ancestral sequence reconstructions suggest that during the evolutionary emergence of RA signaling, the ancestral, narrow-channeled metazoan ALDH1/2 gave rise to large ALDH1 channels capable of accommodating bulky aldehydes, such as retinaldehyde, supporting the view that retinoid-dependent signaling arose from ancestral cellular detoxification mechanisms. Our analyses also indicate that, on a more restricted evolutionary scale, ALDH1 duplicates from invertebrate chordates (amphioxus and ascidian tunicates) underwent switches to smaller and narrower SECs. When combined with alterations in gene expression, these switches led to neofunctionalization from ALDH1-like roles in embryonic patterning to systemic, ALDH2-like roles, suggesting functional shifts from signaling to detoxification.
Project description:BACKGROUND:Ascidians are tunicates, the taxon recently proposed as sister group to the vertebrates. They possess a chordate-like swimming larva, which metamorphoses into a sessile adult. Several ascidian species form colonies of clonal individuals by asexual reproduction. During their life cycle, ascidians present three muscle types: striated in larval tail, striated in the heart, and unstriated in the adult body-wall. RESULTS:In the colonial ascidian Botryllus schlosseri, we investigated organisation, differentiation and gene expression of muscle beginning from early buds to adults and during zooid regression. We characterised transcripts for troponin T (BsTnT-c), adult muscle-type (BsMA2) and cytoplasmic-type (BsCA1) actins, followed by in situ hybridisation (ISH) on sections to establish the spatio-temporal expression of BsTnT-c and BsMA2 during asexual reproduction and in the larva. Moreover, we characterised actin genomic sequences, which by comparison with other metazoans revealed conserved intron patterns. CONCLUSION:Integration of data from ISH, phalloidin staining and TEM allowed us to follow the phases of differentiation of the three muscle kinds, which differ in expression pattern of the two transcripts. Moreover, phylogenetic analyses provided evidence for the close relationship between tunicate and vertebrate muscle genes. The characteristics and plasticity of muscles in tunicates are discussed.