Sycon capricorn as a model to investigate early evolution of animal body plan development

Vaughn EE and Adamska MA

ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and Research School of Biology, Australian National University, Canberra, ACT 0200, Australia.

Extensive radiation of gene regulatory networks has characterised the evolution of animal body plans, leading to the stunning morphological diversity within the animal kingdom. This diversity has long inspired researchers to investigate the evolution of animal development; yet, we know relatively little about the evolutionary origins of key animal body features such as multicellularity, axial polarity, body symmetry, and germ layer specification. We stand to gain great insight into the evolution of animal body plan development through the study of early branching animal lineages. Sponges, often argued to be the oldest animal clade, bridge the gap between our most recent unicellular ancestors and the more familiar “true” multicellular animals, cnidarians and bilaterians. Intriguingly, despite their relatively simple body plans, a majority of the key conserved developmental gene regulatory network components are found in sponge genomes. In my talk, I will describe a new sponge model system for the study of developmental gene regulatory networks. Sycon capricorn, a calcaronean sponge endemic to the temperate New South Wales coast, is well-suited as a model species due its remarkable regenerative capacity, a growing suite of molecular data resources, and ease of laboratory culturing. To elevate S. capricorn as powerful model, I have used a hybrid genome assembly approach incorporating massive short-read sequencing with cutting edge MinION long read sequencing. I will present the results of genome annotation using RNAseq data, which will be used as a reference for ChIP-Seq of DNA-binding targets of the Wnt signalling pathway transcription factor, Tcf.