Research ArticleEVOLUTIONARY BIOLOGY

An ancient Turing-like patterning mechanism regulates skin denticle development in sharks

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Science Advances  07 Nov 2018:
Vol. 4, no. 11, eaau5484
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aau5484

Abstract

Vertebrates have a vast array of epithelial appendages, including scales, feathers, and hair. The developmental patterning of these diverse structures can be theoretically explained by Alan Turing’s reaction-diffusion system. However, the role of this system in epithelial appendage patterning of early diverging lineages (compared to tetrapods), such as the cartilaginous fishes, is poorly understood. We investigate patterning of the unique tooth-like skin denticles of sharks, which closely relates to their hydrodynamic and protective functions. We demonstrate through simulation models that a Turing-like mechanism can explain shark denticle patterning and verify this system using gene expression analysis and gene pathway inhibition experiments. This mechanism bears remarkable similarity to avian feather patterning, suggesting deep homology of the system. We propose that a diverse range of vertebrate appendages, from shark denticles to avian feathers and mammalian hair, use this ancient and conserved system, with slight genetic modulation accounting for broad variations in patterning.

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