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Dev Biol. 2013 May 1;377(1):284-92. doi: 10.1016/j.ydbio.2013.01.009. Epub 2013 Jan 18.

Development of ichthyosporeans sheds light on the origin of metazoan multicellularity.

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  • 1Institut de Biologia Evolutiva (CSIC-Universitat Pompeu Fabra), Passeig Marítim de la Barceloneta 37-49, 08003 Barcelona, Spain. hiroshi.suga@ibe.upf-csic.es


To understand the mechanisms involved in the transition from protists to multicellular animals (metazoans), studying unicellular relatives of metazoans is as important as studying metazoans themselves. However, investigations remain poor on the closest unicellular (or colonial) relatives of Metazoa, i.e., choanoflagellates, filastereans and ichthyosporeans. Molecular-level analyses on these protists have been severely limited by the lack of transgenesis tools. Their genomes, however, contain several key genes encoding proteins important for metazoan development and multicellularity, including those involved in cell-cell communication, cell proliferation, cell differentiation, and tissue growth control. Tools to analyze their functions in a molecular level are awaited. Here we report techniques of cell transformation and gene silencing developed for the first time in a close relative of metazoans, the ichthyosporean Creolimax fragrantissima. We propose C. fragrantissima as a model organism to investigate the origin of metazoan multicellularity. By transgenesis, we demonstrate that its colony develops from a fully-grown multinucleate syncytium, in which nuclear divisions are strictly synchronized. It has been hypothesized that metazoan multicellular development initially occurred in the course of evolution through successive rounds of cell division, which were not necessarily be synchronized, or alternatively through cell aggregation. Our findings point to another possible mechanism for the evolution of animal multicellularity, namely, cellularization of a syncytium in which nuclear divisions are synchronized. We believe that further studies on the development of ichthyosporeans by the use of our methodologies will provide novel insights into the origin of metazoan multicellularity.

Copyright © 2013 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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