Two wnt8 orthologs, Smwnt8 and Pjwnt8, were isolated from an indirect developing sand dollar, Scaphechinus mirabilis, and a direct developing sand dollar, Peronella japonica, respectively. The expression patterns of two genes during early development were examined by whole mount in situ hybridization. The expression of Smwnt8 was initiated in the micromeres at the late 16-cell stage and expanded at the 64-cell stage to the whole vegetal hemisphere, including the presumptive endomesodermal regions. The timing of the initiation of Pjwnt8 transcription in the presumptive endomesoderm region was delayed by 2-3 cell cycles compared to that of Smwnt8. The delay, or molecular heterochrony, of Pjwnt8 transcription strongly suggests the existence of a substantial evolutionary change in the early endomesodermal specification of P. japonica. In addition to the endomesodermal expression during early embryogenesis, bilateral expressions were observed commonly in the ectoderm of two sand dollar species during larval stages.
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