The genomic keys to the origin of the vertebrates

The genomic keys to the origin of the vertebrates

News from the CRG

Vertebrates are extremely diverse and have colonised virtually all of the planet’s ecosystems. Now, an international team of scientists co-led by  researchers from the Centre for Genomic Regulation (CRG), the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), and the National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) in France, has described the processes that ultimately helped to yield the diversity of gene functions and regulation during the transition from invertebrates to vertebrates.

The scientists studied the genomes of several species of vertebrates, such as the zebrafish or the medaka fish, as well as of the frog, chicken, mouse and the human being. However, in order to understand the origin of the genomic regulation mechanisms that characterise the vertebrates, they needed equivalent data from a closely-related species that would furnish with information about the evolutionary transition between invertebrates and vertebrates. For this purpose, the investigators sequenced the genome of the amphioxus and generated the data required to study its gene regulation. “The amphioxus is an organism that has been used as a research model system since the 19th Century. Its genome has evolved very slowly, without the whole duplications present in the vertebrates. For this reason, the amphioxus can serve as a reference in evolutionary comparisons to understand our lineage”, says Héctor Escriva, one of the leaders of the work and a researcher at the Sorbonne and at the CNRS in Banyuls sur Mer, France.

The work, published today in Nature, not only compares the genomes, but also provides genomic, epigenomic and gene expression data, furnishing unique information about the functional changes that gave rise to higher complexity in the vertebrates. 


Marletaz et al. Amphioxus functional genomics and the origins of vertebrate gene regulation. Nature (20188) DOI: 10.1038/s41586-018-0734-6

More information:

CRG website