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Inversion (evolutionary biology)

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Title: Inversion (evolutionary biology)  
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Inversion (evolutionary biology)

In dorsal and ventral structures in arthropods is opposite that of mammals. Decades later, in light of Darwin’s theory of “descent with modification,” Anton Dohrn proposed that these groups arose from a common ancestor which possessed a body plan similar to that of modern annelids with a ventral nerve cord and dorsal heart.[1] Whereas this arrangement is retained in arthropods and other protostomes, in chordate deuterostomes, the nerve cord is located dorsally and the heart ventrally. The inversion hypothesis was met with criticism each time it was proposed, and has periodically resurfaced and been rejected.[1] However, some modern molecular embryologists suggest that recent findings support the idea of inversion.


  • Evidence for inversion 1
    • Hemichordates: an intermediate body plan? 1.1
  • Alternative hypotheses 2
  • References 3
  • External links 4

Evidence for inversion

Generalized protostome and chordate body plans illustrating the opposite orientation of dorsoventral structures. Concomitant with the change in orientation of these structures is the inversion of domains of expression of TGF-β signals (dpp/BMPs) and their inhibitors (sog/Chordin).
Balanoglossus, an example of a Hemichordata, represents an "evolutionary link" between invertebrates and vertebrates.

In addition to the simple observation that the dorsoventral axes of protostomes and chordates appear to be inverted with respect to each other, molecular biology provides some support for the inversion hypothesis. The most notable piece of evidence comes from analysis of the genes involved in establishing the DV axis in these two groups.[2] In the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster, as well as in other protostomes, the β-type transforming growth factor (TGF-β) family member decapentaplegic (dpp) is expressed dorsally and is thought to suppress neural fate. On the ventral side of the embryo, a dpp inhibitor, short gastrulation (sog), is expressed, thus allowing nervous tissue to form ventrally. In chordates, the dpp homolog BMP-4 is expressed in the prospective ventral (non-neural) part of the embryo while several sog-like BMP inhibitors (Chordin, Noggin, Follistatin) are expressed dorsally.[1]

Other patterning genes also show conserved domains of expression. The neural patterning genes vnd, ind, msh, and netrin are expressed in the Drosophila ventral nerve cells and midline mesectoderm. The chordate homologs of these genes, NK2, Gsh1/2, Msx1/3, and Netrin, are expressed in the dorsal neural tube. Furthermore, the tinman/Nkx2-5 gene is expressed very early in cells that will become the heart in both Drosophila (dorsally) and chordates (ventrally).[1]

Additional support comes from work on the development of the Sea urchins have the same signaling pathway, but it acts on the right side of the body.[4] Recent study even shows that an opposing right-sided signal for regulating left-right asymmetry in vertebrates, i.e. BMP signaling pathway, is activated on the left side of the sear urchin larva,[5] suggesting an axial inversion during evolution from basal deuterostome to chordate such like amphioxus. Because in amphioxus, Nodal signaling pathway is on the left side of the embryo, which is the same situation as vertebrates.[6] Sea urchins, like other echinoderms, have radially-symmetric adults, but bilaterally-symmetric larvae. Since sea urchins are deuterostomes, this suggests that the ancestral deuterostome shared its orientation with protostomes, and that dorsoventral inversion originated in some ancestral chordate.

There is evidence that invertebrate chordates are also inverted. Ascidian larvae have a dorsal mouth, as one would expect from inversion.[7] The amphioxus has an odd feature: its mouth appears on the left side and migrates to the ventral side.[8] Biologist Thurston Lacalli speculates that this may be a recapitulation of the migration of the mouth from the dorsal to the ventral side in a protochordate.[9]

Hemichordates: an intermediate body plan?

Some biologists have proposed that the notochord,[11] are retained but inverted. Nübler-Jung and Arendt argue that the principal innovation in the chordate lineage was the obliteration of the mouth on the neural side (as in hemichordates, arthropods, and annelids) and the development of a new mouth on the non-neural ventral side.[10]

Alternative hypotheses

While the idea of dorsoventral axis inversion appears to be supported by morphological and molecular data, others have proposed alternative plausible hypotheses (reviewed in Gerhart 2000)[1]]. One assumption of the inversion hypothesis is that the common ancestor of protostomes and chordates already possessed an organized central nervous system located at one pole of the dorsoventral axis. Alternatively, this ancestor may have possessed only a diffuse nerve net or several bundles of nervous tissue with no distinct dorsoventral localization.[1] This would mean that the apparent inversion was simply a result of concentration of the central nervous system at opposite poles independently in the lineages leading to protostomes and chordates. Lacalli (1996) suggested a scenario in which the ancestor had a single opening to the digestive system, and that the neural and non-neural mouths arose independently in protostomes and chordates, respectively.[12] By this hypothesis, there is no need for inversion.

Martindale and Henry propose a ctenophore-like ancestor with a concentrated nerve cord and two anal pores on opposite sides of the animal in addition to a terminal gut opening.[1][13] If one of these pores became the mouth in protostomes and the other became the mouth in deuterostomes, this would also preclude inversion. Another alternative, proposed by von Salvini-Plawen, states that the ancestor had a two-part nervous system - one part concentrated, the other diffuse. The nervous systems of protostome and deuterostome descendants of this ancestor may have arisen independently from these two distinct parts.[1][14]

While both the arguments for and against inversion may be compelling, given the limitations of inferring ancestral states based on extant species, these ideas may remain merely hypotheses for years to come.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Gerhart J (2000). "Inversion of the chordate body axis: Are there alternatives?". Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 97 (9): 4445–8.  
  2. ^ De Robertis EM & Sasai Y (1996). "A common plan for dorsoventral patterning in Bilateria". Nature 380 (6569): 37–40.  
  3. ^ Alexandru S. Denes, Gáspár Jékely, Patrick R.H. Steinmetz, Florian Raible, Heidi Snyman, Benjamin Prud'homme, David E.K. Ferrier, Guillaume Balavoine and Detlev Arendt (2007). "Molecular Architecture of Annelid Nerve Cord Supports Common Origin of Nervous System Centralization in Bilateria". Cell 129 (2): 277–288.  
  4. ^ Véronique Duboc, Eric Röttinger, François Lapraz, Lydia Besnardeau and Thierry Lepage (2005). "Left-Right Asymmetry in the Sea Urchin Embryo Is Regulated by Nodal Signaling on the Right Side". Developmental Cell 9 (1): 147–158.  
  5. ^ Luo YJ, Su YH (2012). "Opposing Nodal and BMP Signals Regulate Left–Right Asymmetry in the Sea Urchin Larva". PLoS Biology 10 (10): e1001402.  
  6. ^ Yu JK, Holland LZ, Holland ND (2002). "An amphioxus nodal gene (AmphiNodal) with early symmetrical expression in the organizer and mesoderm and later asymmetrical expression associated with left-right axis formation.". Evolution & Development 4 (6): 418–25.  
  7. ^ Thurston C. Lacalli (2006). "Prospective protochordate homologs of vertebrate midbrain and MHB, with some thoughts on MHB origins". International Journal of Biological Sciences 2 (3): 104–109.  
  8. ^ Kinya Yasui and Takao Kaji (2008). "The Lancelet and Ammocoete Mouths". Zoological Science 25 (10): 1012–1019.  
  9. ^ Thurston C. Lacalli (2009). "The emergence of the chordate body plan: some puzzles and problems". Acta Zoologica 91 (1): 4–10.  
  10. ^ a b c Nübler-Jung K & Arendt D (1999). "Dorsoventral axis inversion: Enteropneust anatomy links invertebrates to chordates turned upside down". J Zool Syst Evol Research 37 (2): 93–100.  
  11. ^ Cameron CB (2005). "A phylogeny of the hemichordates based on morphological characters". Can J Zool 83: 196–215.  
  12. ^ Lacalli T (1996). "Dorsoventral axis inversion: a phylogenetic perspective". BioEssays 18 (3): 251–4.  
  13. ^ Martindale MQ & Henry JQ (1998). "The development of radial and biradial symmetry: The evolution of bilaterality". Am. Zool. 38: 672–84.  
  14. ^ von Salvini-Plawen L (1998). "The urochordate larva and archichordate organization: chordate origin and anagenesis revisited". J. Zool. Syst. Evol. Res. 36 (3): 129–45.  

External links

  • DrosophilaAn explanation of DV patterning in
  • P.Z. Myers on axis inversion and hemichordates
  • P.Z. Myers on axis inversion and annelids: "We have the brains of worms"
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