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Background: Genomic analysis has upended chordate phylogeny, placing the tunicates as the sister group to the vertebrates. This taxonomic rearrangement raises questions about the emergence of a tunicate/vertebrate ancestor. Results: Characterization of developmental genes uniquely shared by tunicates and vertebrates is one promising approach for deciphering developmental shifts underlying acquisition of novel, ancestral traits. The matrix glycoprotein Fibronectin (FN) has long been considered a vertebrate-specific gene, playing a major instructive role in vertebrate embryonic development. However, the recent computational prediction of an orthologous “vertebrate-like” Fn gene in the genome of a tunicate, Ciona savignyi, challenges this viewpoint suggesting that Fn may have arisen in the shared tunicate/vertebrate ancestor. Here we verify the presence of a tunicate Fn ortholog. Transgenic reporter analysis was used to characterize a Ciona Fn enhancer driving expression in the notochord. Targeted knockdown in the notochord lineage indicates that FN is required for proper convergent extension. Conclusions: These findings suggest that acquisition of Fn was associated with altered notochord morphogenesis in the vertebrate/tunicate ancestor.


Chordate evolution, Tunicates, Extracellular matrix, Fibronectin, Notochord, Convergent extension

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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.


This work is freely available courtesy of BioMed Central through a Creative Commons License.