Sexual and asexual development: two distinct programs producing the same tunicate

Mark Kowarsky, Chiara Anselmi, Kohji Hotta, Paolo Burighel, Giovanna Zaniolo, Federico Caicci, Benyamin Rosental, Norma F. Neff, Katherine J. Ishizuka, Karla J. Palmeri, Jennifer Okamoto, Tal Gordon, Irving L. Weissman, Stephen R. Quake, Lucia Manni, Ayelet Voskoboynik

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)


Colonial tunicates are the only chordate that possess two distinct developmental pathways to produce an adult body: either sexually through embryogenesis or asexually through a stem cell-mediated renewal termed blastogenesis. Using the colonial tunicate Botryllus schlosseri, we combine transcriptomics and microscopy to build an atlas of the molecular and morphological signatures at each developmental stage for both pathways. The general molecular profiles of these processes are largely distinct. However, the relative timing of organogenesis and ordering of tissue-specific gene expression are conserved. By comparing the developmental pathways of B. schlosseri with other chordates, we identify hundreds of putative transcription factors with conserved temporal expression. Our findings demonstrate that convergent morphology need not imply convergent molecular mechanisms but that it showcases the importance that tissue-specific stem cells and transcription factors play in producing the same mature body through different pathways.

Original languageEnglish
Article number108681
JournalCell Reports
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2021 Jan 26


  • tunicate, Botryllus schlosseri, embryogenesis, blastogenesis, development, stem cells, regeneration, organogenesis, transcription factors, evolution

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)


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