The gene regulatory system for specifying germ layers in early embryos of the simple chordate

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Science Advances  09 Jun 2021:
Vol. 7, no. 24, eabf8210
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abf8210


In animal embryos, gene regulatory networks control the dynamics of gene expression in cells and coordinate such dynamics among cells. In ascidian embryos, gene expression dynamics have been dissected at the single-cell resolution. Here, we revealed mathematical functions that represent the regulatory logics of all regulatory genes expressed at the 32-cell stage when the germ layers are largely specified. These functions collectively explain the entire mechanism by which gene expression dynamics are controlled coordinately in early embryos. We found that regulatory functions for genes expressed in each of the specific lineages contain a common core regulatory mechanism. Last, we showed that the expression of the regulatory genes became reproducible by calculation and controllable by experimental manipulations. Thus, these regulatory functions represent an architectural design for the germ layer specification of this chordate and provide a platform for simulations and experiments to understand the operating principles of gene regulatory networks.

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