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Evolution of gene regulatory network architectures: examples of subcircuit conservation and plasticity between classes of echinoderms.
Developmental gene regulatory networks (GRNs) explain how regulatory states are established in particular cells during development and how these states then determine the final form of the embryo. Evolutionary changes to the sequence of the genome will direct reorganization of GRN architectures, which in turn will lead to the alteration of developmental programs. A comparison of GRN architectures must consequently reveal the molecular basis for the evolution of developmental programs among different organisms. This review highlights some of the important findings that have emerged from the most extensive direct comparison of GRN architectures to date. Comparison of the orthologous GRNs for endomesodermal specification in the sea urchin and sea star, provides examples of several discrete, functional GRN subcircuits and shows that they are subject to diverse selective pressures. This demonstrates that different regulatory linkages may be more or less amenable to evolutionary change. One of the more surprising findings from this comparison is that GRN-level functions may be maintained while the factors performing the functions have changed, suggesting that GRNs have a high capacity for compensatory changes involving transcription factor binding to cis regulatory modules.