Morphogenic machines evolve more rapidly than the signals that pattern them: lessons from amphibians



The induction of mesoderm and the patterning of its dorsal-ventral and anterior-posterior axes seems to be relatively conserved throughout the chordates, as do the morphogenic movements that produce a phylotypic stage embryo. What is not conserved is the initial embryonic architecture of the fertilized egg, and the specific cell behaviors used to drive mesoderm morphogenesis. How then do conserved patterning pathways adapt to diverse architectures and where do they diverge to direct the different cell behaviors used to shape the phylotypic body plan? Amphibians in particular, probably because of their broad range of reproductive strategies, show diverse embryonic architectures across their class and use diverse cell behaviors during their early morphogenesis, making them an interesting comparative group. We examine three examples from our work on amphibians that show variations in the use of cell behaviors to drive the morphogenesis of the same tissues. We also consider possible points where the conserved patterning pathways might diverge to produce different cell behaviors. J. Exp. Zool. (Mol. Dev. Evol.) 310B:111–135, 2008. © 2007 Wiley-Liss, Inc.