Developmental biology of pterobranch hemichordates: History and perspectives



Hemichordates, like echinoderms and chordates, are deuterostomes, and study of their developmental biology could shed light on chordate origins. To date, molecular developmental studies in hemichordates have been confined to the enteropneusts or acorn worms. Here, we introduce the developmental biology of the other group of hemichordate, the pterobranchs. Pterobranchs generally live in cold, deep waters; this has hampered studies of this group. However, about 40 years ago, the colonial pterobranchs Rhabdopleura compacta and R. normani were discovered from shallow water, which has facilitated their study. Using Rhabdopleura compacta from south-west England, we have initiated molecular developmental studies in pterobranchs. Here, we outline methods for collecting adults, larvae, and embryos and demonstrate culturing of larvae under laboratory conditions. Given that the larval and adult forms differ from enteropneusts, we suggest that molecular developmental studies of pterobranchs may offer new insights into chordate origins. genesis 46:587–591, 2008. © 2008 Wiley-Liss, Inc.