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Nat Genet. 2016 Aug;48(8):888-94. doi: 10.1038/ng.3591. Epub 2016 Jun 13.

Parallel evolution of male germline epigenetic poising and somatic development in animals.

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Whitehead Institute, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA.
Infertility Center of St. Louis, St. Luke's Hospital, St. Louis, Missouri, USA.
Department of Biology, University of Texas at San Antonio, San Antonio, Texas, USA.
Department of Biology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA.
Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Whitehead Institute, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA.


Changes in gene regulation frequently underlie changes in morphology during evolution, and differences in chromatin state have been linked with changes in anatomical structure and gene expression across evolutionary time. Here we assess the relationship between evolution of chromatin state in germ cells and evolution of gene regulatory programs governing somatic development. We examined the poised (H3K4me3/H3K27me3 bivalent) epigenetic state in male germ cells from five mammalian and one avian species. We find that core genes poised in germ cells from multiple amniote species are ancient regulators of morphogenesis that sit at the top of transcriptional hierarchies controlling somatic tissue development, whereas genes that gain poising in germ cells from individual species act downstream of core poised genes during development in a species-specific fashion. We propose that critical regulators of animal development gained an epigenetically privileged state in germ cells, manifested in amniotes by H3K4me3/H3K27me3 poising, early in metazoan evolution.

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