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Caught in the evolutionary act: precise cis-regulatory basis of difference in the organization of gene networks of sea stars and sea urchins.
The regulatory control of otxbeta1/2 in the sea urchin Strongylocentrotus purpuratus and the sea star Asterina miniata provides an exceptional opportunity to determine the genomic basis of evolutionary change in gene regulatory network (GRN) architectures. Network perturbation analyses in both taxa show that Otx regulates the transcription factors gatae and krox/blimp1 and both of these transcription factors also feed back and regulate otx. The otx gene also autoregulates. This three way interaction is an example of a GRN kernel. It has been conserved for 500 million years since these two taxa last shared a common ancestor. Amid this high level of conservation we show here one significant regulatory change. Tbrain is required for correct otxbeta1/2 expression in the sea star but not in the sea urchin. In sea urchin, tbrain is not co-expressed with otxbeta1/2 and instead has an essential role in specification of the embryonic skeleton. Tbrain in these echinoderms is thus a perfect example of an orthologous gene co-opted for entirely different developmental processes. We isolate and test the sea star otxbeta1/2 cis-regulatory module and demonstrate functional binding sites for each of the predicted inputs, including Tbrain. We compare it to the logic processing operating in the sea urchin otxbeta1/2 cis-regulatory module and present an evolutionary scenario of the change in Tbrain dependence. Finally, inter-specific gene transfer experiments confirm this scenario and demonstrate evolution occurring at the level of sequence changes to the cis-regulatory module.