Gonad establishment during asexual reproduction in the annelid Pristina leidyi. Academic Article uri icon


  • Animals that can reproduce by both asexual agametic reproduction and sexual reproduction must transmit or re-establish their germ line post-embryonically. Although such a dual reproductive mode has evolved repeatedly among animals, how asexually produced individuals establish their germ line remains poorly understood in most groups. We investigated germ line development in the annelid Pristina leidyi, a species that typically reproduces asexually by paratomic fission, intercalating a new tail and head in the middle of the body followed by splitting. We found that in fissioning individuals, gonads occur in anterior segments in the anterior-most individual as well as in new heads forming within fission zones. Homologs of the germ line/multipotency genes piwi, vasa, and nanos are expressed in the gonads, as well as in proliferative tissues including the posterior growth zone, fission zone, and regeneration blastema. In fissioning animals, certain cells on the ventral nerve cord express a homolog of piwi, are abundant near fission zones, and sometimes make contact with gonads. Such cells are typically undetectable near the blastema and posterior growth zone. Time-lapse imaging provides direct evidence that cells on the ventral nerve cord migrate preferentially towards fission zones. Our findings indicate that gonads form routinely in fissioning individuals, that a population of piwi-positive cells on the ventral nerve cord is associated with fission and gonads, and that cells resembling these piwi-positive cells migrate along the ventral nerve cord. We suggest that the piwi-positive ventral cells are germ cells that transmit the germ line across asexually produced individuals via migration along the ventral nerve cord.

publication date

  • September 1, 2015