New CU Boulder-led research finds that the traits that make vertebrates distinct from invertebrates were made possible by the emergence of a new set of genes 500 million years ago.
New CU Boulder-led research finds that the traits that make vertebrates distinct from invertebrates were made possible by the emergence of a new set of genes 500 million years ago, documenting an important episode in evolution where new genes played a significant role in the evolution of novel traits in vertebrates.
The findings, published today in Nature, show that a gene family only found in vertebrates is critical for forming the head skeleton and other traits unique to them during embryonic development.
“Every animal essentially has the same basic core set of Lego pieces to make them. What this paper shows is that vertebrates have a few special pieces in addition to that, and we identify those special pieces,” said Daniel Medeiros, senior author of the paper and associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology.
These special pieces in vertebrates are known as the Endothelin signaling pathway, a set of genes that influence how cells talk to each other. The researchers found this gene family is responsible for allowing neural crest cells—cells that develop into unique vertebrate traits like skeletal parts, pigment cells and our peripheral nervous system—to proliferate and specialize into different roles throughout the body.
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Image via David Jandzik.