The Adult Body Plan of Indirect Developing Hemichordates Develops by Adding a Hox-Patterned Trunk to an Anterior Larval Territory. Academic Article uri icon


  • Many animals are indirect developers with distinct larval and adult body plans [1]. The molecular basis of differences between larval and adult forms is often poorly understood, adding a level of uncertainty to comparative developmental studies that use data from both indirect and direct developers. Here we compare the larval and adult body plans of an indirect developing hemichordate, Schizocardium californicum [2]. We describe the expression of 27 transcription factors with conserved roles in deuterostome ectodermal anteroposterior (AP) patterning in developing embryos, tornaria larvae, and post-metamorphic juveniles and show that the tornaria larva of S. californicum is transcriptionally similar to a truncated version of the adult. The larval ectoderm has an anterior molecular signature, while most of the trunk, defined by the expression of hox1-7, is absent. Posterior ectodermal activation of Hox is initiated in the late larva prior to metamorphosis, in preparation for the transition to the adult form, in which the AP axis converges on a molecular architecture similar to that of the direct developing hemichordate Saccoglossus kowalevskii. These results identify a molecular correlate of a major difference in body plan between hemichordate larval and adult forms and confirm the hypothesis that deuterostome larvae are "swimming heads" [3]. This will allow future comparative studies with hemichordates to take into account molecular differences caused by early life history evolution within the phylum. Additionally, comparisons with other phyla suggest that a delay in trunk development is a feature of indirect development shared across distantly related phyla.

publication date

  • January 9, 2017