A set of genes conserved in sequence and expression traces back the establishment of multicellularity in social amoebae

Christina Schilde, Hajara M. Lawal, Angelika Noegel, Ludwig Eichinger, Pauline Schaap, Gernot Glöckner (Lead / Corresponding author)

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    BACKGROUND: The developmental cycle of Dictyostelid amoebae represents an early form of multicellularity with cell type differentiation. Mutant studies in the model Dictyostelium discoideum revealed that its developmental program integrates the actions of genes involved in signal transduction, adhesion, motility, autophagy and cell wall and matrix biosynthesis. However, due to functional redundancy and fail safe options not required in the laboratory, this single organism approach cannot capture all essential genes. To understand how multicellular organisms evolved, it is essential to recognize both the conserved core features of their developmental programs and the gene modifications that instigated phenotypic innovation. For complex organisms, such as animals, this is not within easy reach, but it is feasible for less complex forms, such as the Dictyostelid social amoebas.

    RESULTS: We compared global profiles of gene expression during the development of four social amoebae species that represent 600 mya of Dictyostelia evolution, and identified orthologous conserved genes with similar developmental up-regulation of expression using three different methods. For validation, we disrupted five genes of this core set and examined the phenotypic consequences.

    CONCLUSION: At least 71 of the developmentally regulated genes that were identified with all methods were likely to be already present in the last ancestor of all Dictyostelia. The lack of phenotypic changes in null mutants indicates that even highly conserved genes either participate in functionally redundant pathways or are necessary for developmental progression under adverse, non-standard laboratory conditions. Both mechanisms provide robustness to the developmental program, but impose a limit on the information that can be obtained from deleting single genes.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number871
    Pages (from-to)1-10
    Number of pages10
    JournalBMC Genomics
    Publication statusPublished - 4 Nov 2016


    • Developmental program
    • Evolution
    • Dictyostelia
    • Expression pattern conservation
    • Multicellularity
    • Developmental genes


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