Molecular and morphological signatures of chordate development: Two distinct pathways, one tunicate

Mark Kowarsky, Chiara Anselmi, Kohji Hotta, Paolo Burighel, Giovanna Zaniolo, Federico Caicci, Benyamin Rosental, Norma F. Neff, Katherine J. Ishizuka, Karla J. Palmeri, Jennifer Okamoto, Tal Gordon, Irving L. Weissman, Stephen R. Quake, Lucia Manni, Ayelet Voskoboynik

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


All chordates, including urochordates such as tunicates, develop through embryogenesis. The chordate larvae of colonial tunicates metamorphose to lose all chordate structures such as notochord, neural tube, segmented musculature, and then develop by asexual reproduction [blastogenesis], whereby stem cells form tissues and organs. These two developmental pathways establish the same body axis, morphogenetic patterning and organ formation. It is unknown if this convergent morphology implies convergent cellular and molecular mechanisms, and whether the stem cells that mediate these processes differ. Using the colonial tunicate Botryllus schlosseri, we combined transcriptome sequencing and multiple microscopy techniques to study the molecular and morphological signatures of cells at each developmental stage of embryogenesis and blastogenesis. This revealed that the molecular programs are distinct, but the blastogenic tissue-specific stem cells and embryonic precursor populations share similar molecular profiles. By comparing embryogenesis in other chordates we found shared developmental principles, highlighting transcription factors as key evolutionary conserved elements. This study establishes a platform for advancing the science of stem cell biology and regulation of development and regeneration.

Original languageEnglish
JournalUnknown Journal
Publication statusPublished - 2019 Oct 14


  • Blastogenesis
  • Botryllus schlosseri
  • Development
  • Embryogenesis
  • Evolution
  • Organogenesis
  • Regeneration
  • Stem cells
  • Transcription factors
  • Tunicate
  • Urochordata

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)
  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Pharmacology, Toxicology and Pharmaceutics(all)

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