Evelyn E Schwager

Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States

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Publications (15)85.4 Total impact

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    ABSTRACT: The evolutionary success of the largest animal phylum, Arthropoda, has been attributed to tagmatization, the coordinated evolution of adjacent metameres to form morphologically and functionally distinct segmental regions called tagmata. Specification of regional identity is regulated by the Hox genes, of which 10 are inferred to be present in the ancestor of arthropods. With six different posterior segmental identities divided into two tagmata, the bauplan of scorpions is the most heteronomous within Chelicerata. Expression domains of the anterior eight Hox genes are conserved in previously surveyed chelicerates, but it is unknown howHox genes regionalize the three tagmata of scorpions. Here, we show that the scorpion Centruroides sculpturatus has two paralogues of all Hox genes except Hox3, suggesting cluster and/or whole genome duplication in this arachnid order. Embryonic anterior expression domain boundaries of each of the last four pairs of Hox genes (two paralogues each of Antp, Ubx, abd-A and Abd-B) are unique and distinguish segmental groups, such as pectines, book lungs and the characteristic tail, while maintaining spatial collinearity. These distinct expression domains suggest neofunctionalization of Hox gene paralogues subsequent to duplication. Our data reconcile previous understanding of Hox gene function across arthropods with the extreme heteronomy of scorpions.
    Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 08/2014; 281:20140661. · 5.68 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: The monophyly of Mandibulata - the division of arthropods uniting pancrustaceans and myriapods - is consistent with several morphological characters, such as the presence of sensory appendages called antennae and the eponymous biting appendage, the mandible. Functional studies have demonstrated that the patterning of the mandible requires the activity of the Hox gene Deformed and the transcription factor cap-n-collar (cnc) in at least two holometabolous insects: the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster and the beetle Tribolium castaneum. Expression patterns of cnc from two non-holometabolous insects and a millipede have suggested conservation of the labral and mandibular domains within Mandibulata. However, the activity of cnc is unknown in crustaceans and chelicerates, precluding understanding of a complete scenario for the evolution of patterning of this appendage within arthropods. To redress these lacunae, here we investigate the gene expression of the ortholog of cnc in Parhyale hawaiensis, a malacostracan crustacean, and two chelicerates: the harvestman Phalangium opilio, and the scorpion Centruroides sculpturatus. In the crustacean P. hawaiensis, the segmental expression of Ph-cnc is the same as that reported previously in hexapods and myriapods, with two distinct head domains in the labrum and the mandibular segment. In contrast, Po-cnc and Cs-cnc expression is not enriched in the labrum of either chelicerate, but instead is expressed at comparable levels in all appendages. In further contrast to mandibulate orthologs, the expression domain of Po-cnc posterior to the labrum is not confined within the expression domain of Po-Dfd. Expression data from two chelicerate outgroup taxa suggest that the signature two-domain head expression pattern of cnc evolved at the base of Mandibulata. The observation of the archetypal labral and mandibular segment domains in a crustacean exemplar supports the synapomorphic nature of mandibulate cnc expression. The broader expression of Po-cnc with respect to Po-Dfd in chelicerates further suggests that the regulation of cnc by Dfd was also acquired at the base of Mandibulata. To test this hypothesis, future studies examining panarthropod cnc evolution should investigate expression of the cnc ortholog in arthropod outgroups, such as Onychophora and Tardigrada.
    EvoDevo 01/2014; 5(1):3. · 3.91 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: The discovery of genetic mechanisms that can transform a morphological structure from a plesiomorphic (=primitive) state to an apomorphic (=derived) one is a cardinal objective of evolutionary developmental biology. However, this objective is often impeded for many lineages of interest by limitations in taxonomic sampling, genomic resources, or functional genetic methods. In order to investigate the evolution of appendage morphology within Chelicerata, the putative sister group of the remaining arthropods, we developed an RNA interference (RNAi) protocol for the harvestman Phalangium opilio. We silenced the leg gap genes Distal-less (Dll) and dachshund (dac) in the harvestman via zygotic injections of double-stranded RNA (dsRNA), and used in situ hybridization to confirm RNAi efficacy. Consistent with the conserved roles of these genes in patterning the proximo-distal axis of arthropod appendages, we observed that embryos injected with Dll dsRNA lacked distal parts of appendages and appendage-like structures, such as the labrum, the chelicerae, the pedipalps, and the walking legs, whereas embryos injected with dac dsRNA lacked the medial podomeres femur and patella in the pedipalps and walking legs. In addition, we detected a role for these genes in patterning structures that do not occur in well-established chelicerate models (spiders and mites). Dll RNAi additionally results in loss of the preoral chamber, which is formed from pedipalpal and leg coxapophyses, and the ocularium, a dorsal outgrowth bearing the eyes. In one case, we observed that an embryo injected with dac dsRNA lacked the proximal segment of the chelicera, a plesiomorphic podomere that expresses dac in wild-type embryos. This may support the hypothesis that loss of the cheliceral dac domain underlies the transition to the two-segmented chelicera of derived arachnids.
    Evolution & Development 01/2013; · 3.16 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: The proximo-distal axis of the arthropod leg is patterned by mutually antagonistic developmental expression domains of the genes extradenticle, homothorax, dachshund, and Distal-less. In the deutocerebral appendages (the antennae) of insects and crustaceans, the expression domain of dachshund is frequently either absent or, if present, is not required to pattern medial segments. By contrast, the dachshund domain is entirely absent in the deutocerebral appendages of spiders, the chelicerae. It is unknown whether absence of dachshund expression in the spider chelicera is associated with the two-segmented morphology of this appendage, or whether all chelicerates lack the dachshund domain in their chelicerae. We investigated gene expression in the harvestman Phalangium opilio, which bears the plesiomorphic three-segmented chelicera observed in "primitive" chelicerate orders. Consistent with patterns reported in spiders, in the harvestman chelicera homothorax, extradenticle, and Distal-less have broadly overlapping developmental domains, in contrast with mutually exclusive domains in the legs and pedipalps. However, unlike in spiders, the harvestman chelicera bears a distinct expression domain of dachshund in the proximal segment, the podomere that is putatively lost in derived arachnids. These data suggest that a tripartite proximo-distal domain structure is ancestral to all arthropod appendages, including deutocerebral appendages. As a corollary, these data also provide an intriguing putative genetic mechanism for the diversity of arachnid chelicerae: loss of developmental domains along the proximo-distal axis.
    Evolution & Development 11/2012; 14(6):522-33. · 3.16 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: oskar is the only gene in the animal kingdom necessary and sufficient for specifying functional germ cells [1, 2]. However, oskar has only been identified in holometabolous ("higher") insects that specify their germline using specialized cytoplasm called germ plasm [3]. Here we show that oskar evolved before the divergence of higher insects and provide evidence that its germline role is a recent evolutionary innovation. We identify an oskar ortholog in a basally branching insect, the cricket Gryllus bimaculatus. In contrast to Drosophila oskar, Gb-oskar is not required for germ cell formation or axial patterning. Instead, Gb-oskar is expressed in neuroblasts of the brain and CNS and is required for neural development. Taken together with reports of a neural role for Drosophila oskar [4], our data demonstrate that oskar arose nearly 50 million years earlier in insect evolution than previously thought, where it may have played an ancestral neural role, and was co-opted to its well-known essential germline role in holometabolous insects.
    Current biology: CB 10/2012; · 10.99 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Among chelicerates, Hox gene expression has only been investigated in representatives of two arachnid orders to date: Acari (mites and ticks) and Araneae (spiders). Limited data are available for the "primitive" arachnid orders, such as Scorpiones (scorpions) and Opiliones (harvestmen). Here, we present the first data on Hox gene expression in the harvestman Phalangium opilio. Ten Hox genes of this species were obtained from a de novo assembled developmental transcriptome using the Illumina GAII platform. All 10 genes are expressed in characteristic Hox-like expression patterns, and the expression of the anterior and central Hox genes is similar to those of other chelicerates. However, intriguingly, the three posteriormost genes-Ultrabithorax, abdominal-A, and Abdominal-B-share an identical anterior expression boundary in the second opisthosomal segment, and their expression domains extend through the opisthosoma to the posterior growth zone. The overlap in expression domains of the posterior Hox genes is correlated with the absence of opisthosomal organs posterior to the tubular tracheae, which occur on the second opisthosomal segment. Together with the staggered profile of posterior Hox genes in spiders, these data suggest the involvement of abdominal-A and Abdominal-B in the evolution of heteronomous patterning of the chelicerate opisthosoma, providing a mechanism that helps explain the morphological diversity of chelicerates.
    Evolution & Development 09/2012; 14(5):450-63. · 3.16 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Evolution often results in morphologically similar solutions in different organisms, a phenomenon known as convergence. However, there is little knowledge of the processes that lead to convergence at the genetic level. The genes of the Hox cluster control morphology in animals. They may also be central to the convergence of morphological traits, but whether morphological similarities also require similar changes in Hox gene function is disputed. In arthropods, body subdivision into a region with locomotory appendages ("thorax") and a region with reduced appendages ("abdomen") has evolved convergently in several groups, e.g., spiders and insects. In insects, legs develop in the expression domain of the Hox gene Antennapedia (Antp), whereas the Hox genes Ultrabithorax (Ubx) and abdominal-A mediate leg repression in the abdomen. Here, we show that, unlike Antp in insects, the Antp gene in the spider Achaearanea tepidariorum represses legs in the first segment of the abdomen (opisthosoma), and that Antp and Ubx are redundant in the following segment. The down-regulation of Antp in A. tepidariorum leads to a striking 10-legged phenotype. We present evidence from ectopic expression of the spider Antp gene in Drosophila embryos and imaginal tissue that this unique function of Antp is not due to changes in the Antp protein, but likely due to divergent evolution of cofactors, Hox collaborators or target genes in spiders and flies. Our results illustrate an interesting example of convergent evolution of abdominal leg repression in arthropods by altering the role of distinct Hox genes at different levels of their action.
    Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 03/2012; 109(13):4921-6. · 9.74 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: The Wnt genes encode secreted glycoprotein ligands that regulate a wide range of developmental processes, including axis elongation and segmentation. There are thirteen subfamilies of Wnt genes in metazoans and this gene diversity appeared early in animal evolution. The loss of Wnt subfamilies appears to be common in insects, but little is known about the Wnt repertoire in other arthropods, and moreover the expression and function of these genes have only been investigated in a few protostomes outside the relatively Wnt-poor model species Drosophila melanogaster and Caenorhabditis elegans. To investigate the evolution of this important gene family more broadly in protostomes, we surveyed the Wnt gene diversity in the crustacean Daphnia pulex, the chelicerates Ixodes scapularis and Achaearanea tepidariorum, the myriapod Glomeris marginata and the annelid Platynereis dumerilii. We also characterised Wnt gene expression in the latter three species, and further investigated expression of these genes in the beetle Tribolium castaneum. We found that Daphnia and Platynereis both contain twelve Wnt subfamilies demonstrating that the common ancestors of arthropods, ecdysozoans and protostomes possessed all members of all Wnt subfamilies except Wnt3. Furthermore, although there is striking loss of Wnt genes in insects, other arthropods have maintained greater Wnt gene diversity. The expression of many Wnt genes overlap in segmentally reiterated patterns and in the segment addition zone, and while these patterns can be relatively conserved among arthropods and the annelid, there have also been changes in the expression of some Wnt genes in the course of protostome evolution. Nevertheless, our results strongly support the parasegment as the primary segmental unit in arthropods, and suggest further similarities between segmental and parasegmental regulation by Wnt genes in annelids and arthropods respectively. Despite frequent losses of Wnt gene subfamilies in lineages such as insects, nematodes and leeches, most protostomes have probably maintained much of their ancestral repertoire of twelve Wnt genes. The maintenance of a large set of these ligands could be in part due to their combinatorial activity in various tissues rather than functional redundancy. The activity of such Wnt 'landscapes' as opposed to the function of individual ligands could explain the patterns of conservation and redeployment of these genes in important developmental processes across metazoans. This requires further analysis of the expression and function of these genes in a wider range of taxa.
    BMC Evolutionary Biology 01/2010; 10:374. · 3.29 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Germ cells occupy a unique position in animal reproduction, development, and evolution. In sexually reproducing animals, only they can produce gametes and contribute genetically to subsequent generations. Nonetheless, germ line specification during embryogenesis is conceptually the same as the specification of any somatic cell type: germ cells must activate a specific gene regulatory network in order to differentiate and go through gametogenesis. While many genes with critical roles in the germ line have been characterized with respect to expression pattern and genetic interactions, it is the molecular interactions of the relevant gene products that are ultimately responsible for germ cell differentiation. This review summarizes the current state of knowledge on the molecular functions and biochemical connections between germ line gene products. We find that homologous genes often interact physically with the same conserved molecular partners across the metazoans. We also point out cases of nonhomologous genes from different species whose gene products play analogous biological roles in the germ line. We suggest a preliminary molecular definition of an ancestral "pluripotency module" that could have been modified during metazoan evolution to become specific to the germ line.
    Molecular Reproduction and Development 09/2009; 77(1):3-18. · 2.81 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: In insects, the gap gene hunchback (hb) is required for the formation of a set of adjacent segments through the regulation of downstream target genes of the pair rule and segment-polarity classes. In addition, hb is a major regulator of Hox genes and it has been suggested that this is the ancestral role of hb in insects or perhaps even arthropods. To date, however, hb function has been analyzed only in insects. Here we show that hb acts as a segmentation gene during anterior patterning of a noninsect arthropod, the spider Achaearanea tepidariorum. The leg-bearing segments L1, L2, and L4 are missing after downregulation of At-hb via RNAi. At-hb is required for the correct organization of target genes in this region of the embryo, suggesting that At-hb acts as a gap gene in the spider. In contrast to insects, hb does not control Hox gene expression in the spider. Furthermore, analysis of twist expression in At-hb knockdown embryos demonstrates that hb is not required for initiating the segmental organization of the mesoderm in the affected region, but only for its maintenance. Our findings suggest that hb might have had a segmentation gene function in the arthropod ancestor and contradicts the suggestion that the control of Hox genes is the ancestral role of hb. Anterior spider segmentation thus utilizes a Drosophila-like genetic mode, whereas a vertebrate-like mechanism involving Wnt8 and Notch/Delta signaling is used to pattern posterior segments. These data support the hypothesis that short-germ arthropods employ two distinct mechanisms to segment their anterior and posterior body parts.
    Current biology: CB 08/2009; 19(16):1333-40. · 10.99 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: A number of recent studies have investigated posterior development in several different arthropods. As previously found in spiders, it has been discovered that Delta-Notch signaling is required for the development of posterior segments in an insect, the cockroach Periplaneta americana. Furthermore analysis of Wnt8 function in the spider Achaearanea tepidariorum and the beetle Tribolium castaneum demonstrates that this Wnt ligand is required for the establishment of the growth zone and development of posterior segments in both these arthropods. Taken together these studies provide an interesting insight into the architecture of the genetic network that regulated posterior development in the common ancestor of the arthropods.
    Communicative & integrative biology 04/2009; 2(2):174-6.
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    ABSTRACT: Patterning of a multicellular embryo requires precise spatiotemporal control of gene expression during development. The gradient of the morphogen bicoid regulates anterior regionalization in the syncytial blastoderm of Drosophila. However many arthropod embryos develop from a cellular blastoderm that does not allow the formation of transcription factor gradients. Here we show that correct anterior development of the cellularized embryo of the spider Achaearanea tepidariorum requires an anterior-to-posterior wave of dynamic gene expression for positioning the stripes of hairy, hedgehog, and orthodenticle expression. Surprisingly, this dynamic repositioning of the expression of these segmentation genes is blocked in orthodenticle(pRNAi) embryos and no anterior structures are specified in those embryos. Our data suggest that dynamic gene expression across a field of cells is required for anterior regionalization in spiders and provides an explanation for the problem of how positional values for anterior segmentation genes are specified via a morphogen-independent mechanism across a field of cells.
    Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 02/2009; 106(5):1468-72. · 9.74 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: The Wnt genes encode secreted glycoprotein ligands that regulate many developmental processes from axis formation to tissue regeneration [1]. In bilaterians, there are at least 12 subfamilies of Wnt genes [2]. Wnt3 and Wnt8 are required for somitogenesis in vertebrates [3-7] and are thought to be involved in posterior specification in deuterostomes in general [8]. Although TCF and beta-catenin have been implicated in the posterior patterning of some short-germ insects [9, 10], the specific Wnt ligands required for posterior specification in insects and other protostomes remained unknown. Here we investigated the function of Wnt8 in a chelicerate, the common house spider Achaearanea tepidariorum[11]. Knockdown of Wnt8 in Achaearanea via parental RNAi caused misregulation of Delta, hairy, twist, and caudal and resulted in failure to properly establish a posterior growth zone and truncation of the opisthosoma (abdomen). In embryos with the most severe phenotypes, the entire opisthosoma was missing. Our results suggest that in the spider, Wnt8 is required for posterior development through the specification and maintenance of growth-zone cells. Furthermore, we propose that Wnt8, caudal, and Delta/Notch may be parts of an ancient genetic regulatory network that could have been required for posterior specification in the last common ancestor of protostomes and deuterostomes.
    Current Biology 11/2008; 18(20):1619-23. · 9.49 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: The spiders Cupiennius salei and Achaearanea tepidariorum are firmly established laboratory models that have already contributed greatly to answering evolutionary developmental questions. Here we appraise why these animals are such useful models from phylogeny, natural history and embryogenesis to the tools available for their manipulation. We then review recent studies of axis formation, segmentation, appendage development and neurogenesis in these spiders and how this has contributed to understanding the evolution of these processes. Furthermore, we discuss the potential of comparisons of silk production between Cupiennius and Achaearanea to investigate the origins and diversification of this evolutionary innovation. We suggest that further comparisons between these two spiders and other chelicerates will prove useful for understanding the evolution of development in metazoans.
    BioEssays 06/2008; 30(5):487-98. · 5.42 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Hox genes are expressed in specific domains along the anterior posterior body axis and define the regional identity. In most animals these genes are organized in a single cluster in the genome and the order of the genes in the cluster is correlated with the anterior to posterior expression of the genes in the embryo. The conserved order of the various Hox gene orthologs in the cluster among most bilaterians implies that such a Hox cluster was present in their last common ancestor. Vertebrates are the only metazoans so far that have been shown to contain duplicated Hox clusters, while all other bilaterians seem to possess only a single cluster. We here show that at least three Hox genes of the spider Cupiennius salei are present as two copies in this spider. In addition to the previously described duplicated Ultrabithorax gene, we here present sequence and expression data of a second Deformed gene, and of two Sex comb reduced genes. In addition, we describe the sequence and expression of the Cupiennius proboscipedia gene. The spider Cupiennius salei is the first chelicerate for which orthologs of all ten classes of arthropod Hox genes have been described. The posterior expression boundary of all anterior Hox genes is at the tagma border of the prosoma and opisthosoma, while the posterior boundary of the posterior Hox genes is at the posterior end of the embryo. The presence of at least three duplicated Hox genes points to a major duplication event in the lineage to this spider, perhaps even of the complete Hox cluster as has taken place in the lineage to the vertebrates. The combined data of all Cupiennius Hox genes reveal the existence of two distinct posterior expression boundaries that correspond to morphological tagmata boundaries.
    Frontiers in Zoology 02/2007; 4:10. · 3.87 Impact Factor