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Dev Biol. 2013 May 1;377(1):262-74. doi: 10.1016/j.ydbio.2013.01.036. Epub 2013 Feb 13.

The pea aphid (Acyrthosiphon pisum) genome encodes two divergent early developmental programs.

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Laboratory for Evolution and Development, Genetics Otago & Gravida, National Centre for Growth and Development, Department of Biochemistry, University of Otago, 56, Dunedin 9054, Aotearoa, New Zealand.


The pea aphid (Acyrthosiphon pisum) can reproduce either sexually or asexually (parthenogenetically), giving rise, in each case, to almost identical adults. These two modes of reproduction are accompanied by differences in ovarian morphology and the developmental environment of the offspring, with sexual forms producing eggs that are laid, whereas asexual development occurs within the mother. Here we examine the effect each mode of reproduction has on the expression of key maternal and axis patterning genes; orthodenticle (otd), hunchback (hb), caudal (cad) and nanos (nos). We show that three of these genes (Ap-hb, Ap-otd and Ap-cad) are expressed differently between the sexually and asexually produced oocytes and embryos of the pea aphid. We also show, using immunohistochemistry and cytoskeletal inhibitors, that Ap-hb RNA is localized differently between sexually and asexually produced oocytes, and that this is likely due to differences in the 3' untranslated regions of the RNA. Furthermore, Ap-hb and Ap-otd have extensive expression domains in early sexually produced embryos, but are not expressed at equivalent stages in asexually produced embryos. These differences in expression likely correspond with substantial changes in the gene regulatory networks controlling early development in the pea aphid. These data imply that in the evolution of parthenogenesis a new program has evolved to control the development of asexually produced embryos, whilst retaining the existing, sexual, developmental program. The patterns of modification of these developmental processes mirror the changes that we see in developmental processes between species, in that early acting pathways in development are less constrained, and evolve faster, than later ones. We suggest that the evolution of the novel asexual development pathway in aphids is not a simple modification of an ancestral system, but the evolution of two very different developmental mechanisms occurring within a single species.

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