The cell's view of animal body-plan evolution

Lyons, DC, Martindale MQ, Srivastava M.  2014.  The cell's view of animal body-plan evolution. Integrative and Comparative Biology. 54:658-666.

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morphogenesis, nematostella-vectensis, polarity, regeneration


An adult animal's form is shaped by the collective behavior of cells during embryonic development. To understand the forces that drove the divergence of animal body-plans, evolutionary developmental biology has focused largely on studying genetic networks operating during development. However, it is less well understood how these networks modulate characteristics at the cellular level, such as the shape, polarity, or migration of cells. We organized the "Cell's view of animal body plan evolution" symposium for the 2014 The Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology meeting with the explicit goal of bringing together researchers studying the cell biology of embryonic development in diverse animal taxa. Using a broad range of established and emerging technologies, including live imaging, single-cell analysis, and mathematical modeling, symposium participants revealed mechanisms underlying cells' behavior, a few of which we highlight here. Shape, adhesion, and movements of cells can be modulated over the course of evolution to alter adult body-plans and a major theme explored during the symposium was the role of actomyosin in coordinating diverse behaviors of cells underlying morphogenesis in a myriad of contexts. Uncovering whether conserved or divergent genetic mechanisms guide the contractility of actomyosin in these systems will be crucial to understanding the evolution of the body-plans of animals from a cellular perspective. Many speakers presented research describing developmental phenomena in which cell division and tissue growth can control the form of the adult, and other presenters shared work on studying cell-fate specification, an important source of novelty in animal body-plans. Participants also presented studies of regeneration in annelids, flatworms, acoels, and cnidarians, and provided a unifying view of the regulation of cellular behavior during different life-history stages. Additionally, several presentations highlighted technological advances that glean mechanistic insights from new and emerging model systems, thereby providing the phylogenetic breadth so essential for studying animal evolution. Thus, we propose that an explicit study of cellular phenomena is now possible for a wide range of taxa, and that it will be highly informative for understanding the evolution of animal body-plans.