The biological regulation of sea urchin larval skeletogenesis – From genes to biomineralized tissue

Tsvia Gildor, Mark R. Winter, Majed Layous, Eman Hijaze, Smadar Ben-Tabou de-Leon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Biomineralization is the process in which soft organic tissues use minerals to produce shells, skeletons and teeth for various functions such as protection and physical support. The ability of the cells to control the time and place of crystal nucleation as well as crystal orientation and stiffness is far beyond the state-of-the art of human technologies. Thus, understanding the biological control of biomineralization will promote our understanding of embryo development as well as provide novel approaches for material engineering. Sea urchin larval skeletogenesis offers an excellent platform for functional analyses of both the molecular control system and mineral uptake and deposition. Here we describe the current understanding of the genetic, molecular and cellular processes that underlie sea urchin larval skeletogenesis. We portray the regulatory genes that define the specification of the skeletogenic cells and drive the various morphogenetic processes that occur in the skeletogenic lineage, including: epithelial to mesenchymal transition, cell migration, spicule cavity formation and mineral deposition into the spicule cavity. We describe recent characterizations of the size, motion and mineral concentration of the calcium-bearing vesicles in the skeletogenic cells. We review the distinct specification states within the skeletogenic lineage that drive localized skeletal growth at the tips of the spicules. Finally, we discuss the surprising similarity between the regulatory network and cellular processes that drive sea urchin skeletogenesis and those that control vertebrate vascularization. Overall, we illustrate the novel insights on the biological regulation and evolution of biomineralization, gained from studies of the sea urchin larval skeletogenesis.

Original languageEnglish
Article number107797
JournalJournal of Structural Biology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Elsevier Inc.


  • Biomineralization
  • Gene regulatory network
  • Sea urchin
  • Skeletogenesis
  • Tubulogenesis
  • Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor
  • Vesicle diffusion

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Structural Biology


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