Knockout of a single Sox gene resurrects and ancestral cell type in the sea anemone Nematostella vectensis

Department of Biology Seminar Series
Dr. Leslie Babonis, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Cornell University
- | Claire Fagin Hall Auditorium
Photo: Leslie Babonis

Hosted by Dr. Katie Barott

Home institution: Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Cornell University

Cnidocytes are the explosive stinging cells unique to cnidarians (corals, jellyfish, etc). Across cnidarians, there are over 30 types of stinging cells that vary widely in both morphology and function. These unusual cells are among the most iconic examples of a biological novelty but the evolutionary and developmental mechanisms driving diversity of the stinging apparatus are poorly characterized. Using CRISPR/Cas9-mediated genome editing in the burrowing sea anemone Nematostella vectensis, we show that a single transcription factor (NvSox2) acts as a binary switch between two alternative stinging cell fates. Knockout of NvSox2 caused a complete transformation of piercing cells (nematocytes) into ensnaring cells (spirocytes). These results demonstrate how a single transcription factor can coordinate the development of a novel phenotype on top of an ancestral cell type.


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