Comparative Study of Regulatory Circuits in Two Sea Urchin Species Reveals Tight Control of Timing and High Conservation of Expression Dynamics

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Accurate temporal control of gene expression is essential for normal development and must be robust to natural genetic and environmental variation. Studying gene expression variation within and between related species can delineate the level of expression variability that development can tolerate. Here we exploit the comprehensive model of sea urchin gene regulatory networks and generate high-density expression profiles of key regulatory genes of the Mediterranean sea urchin, Paracentrotus lividus (Pl). The high resolution of our studies reveals highly reproducible gene initiation times that have lower variation than those of maximal mRNA levels between different individuals of the same species. This observation supports a threshold behavior of gene activation that is less sensitive to input concentrations. We then compare Mediterranean sea urchin gene expression profiles to those of its Pacific Ocean relative, Strongylocentrotus purpuratus (Sp). These species shared a common ancestor about 40 million years ago and show highly similar embryonic morphologies. Our comparative analyses of five regulatory circuits operating in different embryonic territories reveal a high conservation of the temporal order of gene activation but also some cases of divergence. A linear ratio of 1.3-fold between gene initiation times in Pl and Sp is partially explained by scaling of the developmental rates with temperature. Scaling the developmental rates according to the estimated Sp-Pl ratio and normalizing the expression levels reveals a striking conservation of relative dynamics of gene expression between the species. Overall, our findings demonstrate the ability of biological developmental systems to tightly control the timing of gene activation and relative dynamics and overcome expression noise induced by genetic variation and growth conditions.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere1005435
JournalPLoS Genetics
Issue number7
StatePublished - 1 Jul 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 Gildor, Ben-Tabou de-Leon.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics(clinical)
  • Genetics
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Molecular Biology
  • Cancer Research


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