Loss of Collagen Gene Expression in the Notochord of the Tailless Tunicate Molgula occulta

Sydney Popsuj, Anna Di Gregorio, Billie J. Swalla, Alberto Stolfi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In tunicates, several species in the Molgulidae family have convergently lost the tailed, swimming larval body plan, including the morphogenesis of the notochord, a major chordate-defining trait. Through the comparison of tailless M. occulta and a close relative, the tailed species M. oculata, we show that notochord-specific expression of the Collagen Type I/II Alpha (Col1/2a) gene appears to have been lost specifically in the tailless species. Using CRISPR/Cas9-mediated mutagenesis in the tailed laboratory model tunicate Ciona robusta, we demonstrate that Col1/2a plays a crucial role in the convergent extension of notochord cells during tail elongation. Our results suggest that the expression of Col1/2a in the notochord, although necessary for its morphogenesis in tailed species, is dispensable for tailless species. This loss is likely a result of the accumulation of cisregulatory mutations in the absence of purifying selective pressure. More importantly, the gene itself is not lost, likely due to its roles in other developmental processes, including during the adult stage. Our study further confirms the Molgulidae as an interesting family in which to study the evolutionary loss of tissue-specific expression of indispensable genes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)990-998
Number of pages9
JournalIntegrative and Comparative Biology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Nov 1 2023

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Plant Science


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