The origin of animal multicellularity may be reconstructed by comparing animals with one of their closest living relatives, the choanoflagellate Salpingoeca rosetta. Just as animals develop from a single cell - the zygote - multicellular rosettes of S. rosetta develop from a founding cell. To investigate rosette development, we established forward genetics in S. rosetta. We find that the rosette defect of one mutant, named Rosetteless, maps to a predicted C-type lectin, a class of signaling and adhesion genes required for development and innate immunity in animals. Rosetteless protein is essential for rosette development and forms an extracellular layer that coats and connects the basal poles of each cell in rosettes. This study provides the first link between genotype and phenotype in choanoflagellates and raises the possibility that a protein with C-type lectin-like domains regulated development in the last common ancestor of choanoflagellates and animals.
- Alejandro Sánchez Alvarado, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Stowers Institute for Medical Research, United States
© 2014, Levin et al.
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In a previous study we established forward genetics in the choanoflagellate Salpingoeca rosetta and found that a C-type lectin gene is required for rosette development (Levin et al., 2014). Here we report on critical improvements to genetic screens in S. rosetta while also investigating the genetic basis for rosette defect mutants in which single cells fail to develop into orderly rosettes and instead aggregate promiscuously into amorphous clumps of cells. Two of the mutants, Jumble and Couscous, mapped to lesions in genes encoding two different predicted glycosyltransferases and displayed aberrant glycosylation patterns in the basal extracellular matrix (ECM). In animals, glycosyltransferases sculpt the polysaccharide-rich ECM, regulate integrin and cadherin activity, and, when disrupted, contribute to tumorigenesis. The finding that predicted glycosyltransferases promote proper rosette development and prevent cell aggregation in S. rosetta suggests a pre-metazoan role for glycosyltransferases in regulating development and preventing abnormal tumor-like multicellularity.
A genetic screen has revealed one of the molecules that allow choanoflagellates, the closest unicellular relative of animals, to form colonies, which could help researchers to answer questions about the earliest days of animal evolution.