Ascidian embryos as a model system to analyze expression and function of developmental genes



Abstract Ascidians have served as an appropriate experimental system in developmental biology for more than a century. The fertilized egg develops quickly into a tadpole larva, which consists of a small number of organs including epidermis, central nervous system with two sensory organs, endoderm and mesenchyme in the trunk, and notochord and muscle in the tail. This configuration of the ascidian tadpole is thought to represent the most simplified and primitive chordate body plan. Their embryogenesis is simple, and lineage of embryonic cells is well documented. The ascidian genome contains a basic set of genes with less redundancy compared to the vertebrate genome. Cloning and characterization of developmental genes indicate that each gene is expressed under discrete spatio-temporal pattern within their lineage. In addition, the use of various molecular techniques in the ascidian embryo system highlights its advantages as a future experimental system to explore the molecular mechanisms underlying the expression and function of developmental genes as well as genetic circuitry responsible for the establishment of the basic chordate body plan. This review is aimed to highlight the recent advances in ascidian embryology.