Evolution of early embryogenesis in rhabditid nematodes

Michael Brauchle, Karin Kiontke, Philip MacMenamin, David H A Fitch, Fabio Piano

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The cell-biological events that guide early-embryonic development occur with great precision within species but can be quite diverse across species. How these cellular processes evolve and which molecular components underlie evolutionary changes is poorly understood. To begin to address these questions, we systematically investigated early embryogenesis, from the one- to the four-cell embryo, in 34 nematode species related to C. elegans. We found 40 cell-biological characters that captured the phenotypic differences between these species. By tracing the evolutionary changes on a molecular phylogeny, we found that these characters evolved multiple times and independently of one another. Strikingly, all these phenotypes are mimicked by single-gene RNAi experiments in C. elegans. We use these comparisons to hypothesize the molecular mechanisms underlying the evolutionary changes. For example, we predict that a cell polarity module was altered during the evolution of the Protorhabditis group and show that PAR-1, a kinase localized asymmetrically in C. elegans early embryos, is symmetrically localized in the one-cell stage of Protorhabditis group species. Our genome-wide approach identifies candidate molecules-and thereby modules-associated with evolutionary changes in cell-biological phenotypes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)253-262
Number of pages10
JournalDevelopmental Biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Nov 1 2009


  • C. elegans
  • Cell polarity
  • Early development
  • Embryogenesis
  • Nematoda
  • Phenotypic analysis
  • Phenotypic plasticity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Developmental Biology
  • Cell Biology


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