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Making similar embryos with divergent genomes

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Jeremy Solly.

The relationships between genotype and phenotype during evolution are complex and poorly understood. Surprisingly dissimilar genotypes and developmental programmes can translate into very similar phenotypes. This may explain how some species can remain morphologically similar for long periods of time in spite of extensive genome divergence. It also highlights that morphological similarity does not necessarily reflects molecular homology, a phenomenon that should be taken into consideration when extrapolating to Man results obtained with mammalian model organisms.

Ascidian embryos constitute a remarkable system to study morphological stasis. Slow evolution of their stereotyped embryonic morphologies, based on invariant cell lineages, allows comparison of the same developmental processes across hundreds of millions of years. Extreme genome intra-specific polymorphism and inter-specific divergence suggests an astounding level of plasticity in the underlying developmental pathways.

During the talk, I will present the computational tools that we are developing to quantify embryonic morphologies and their variability from light-sheet microcopy recordings of live embryos. I will also give a preliminary assessment of genome and transcriptome divergence within and between genera. I will conclude by presenting cis-regulatory mechanisms that explain, in part, how divergent genomes can support morphological invariance.

This talk is part of the Evolution and Development Seminar Series series.

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