Ascidians belong to the subphylum Urochordata or Tunicata, which is the sister group of the vertebrates. The simple architecture of the ascidian larva represents the basic chordate body plan. Recent analyses have shown many instances of developmental mechanisms conserved during evolution, while these studies have also revealed a much larger number of instances of divergence. However, to precisely determine the degree of conservation and divergence, that is, how many ways are used to make tadpole-like larvae, we need a systems-level understanding of development. Because animal development is organized by the genome and the minimal functional unit of development is a cell, comprehensiveness and single-cell resolution are necessary for a systems-biological understanding of the development. In the ascidian Ciona intestinalis, gene-regulatory networks responsible for the embryonic development have been studied on a genome-wide scale and at single-cell resolution. The simplicity and compactness of the genome facilitates genome-wide studies. In the Ciona genome, only ∼670 transcription factor genes are encoded, and their expression profiles during the embryonic development have been analyzed. Gene-knockdown analyses of the transcription factor genes expressed during the embryonic development have been performed. The simplicity of the embryo permits these analyses to be done at single-cell resolution. Actually, these simple embryos are now being modeled in the computer, which allows us to understand the gene-regulatory networks very precisely in three dimensions.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Molecular Biology