Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

An evolutionary perspective on germ cell specification genes in insects
by Ewen-Campen, Benjamin, Ph.D., Harvard University, 2014, 192; 3626596
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation investigates the embryonic specification of a specific group of cells: the germ cells. Germ cells, which give rise to sperm and egg, are the only cells in sexually-reproducing animals that directly contribute hereditary information to the next generation. Germ cells are therefore a universal cell type across animals, and represent a profound novelty that likely arose near the base of the animal phylogeny. Yet despite their conserved, essential function in all animals, there is surprising diversity in the mechanisms that specify these cells during embryonic development. In this dissertation, I address the diversity of germ cell specification mechanisms in insects. I focus on two species, the milkweed bug Oncopeltus fasciatus (Hemiptera) and the cricket Gryllus bimaculatus (Orthoptera), which both branch basally to the Holometabola (those insects which undergo metamorphosis, including the well-studied fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster ), and thus provide important phylogenetic breadth to our understanding of germ cell specification across insects. Using functional genetic approaches, I show that germ cell specification in both Oncopeltus and Gryllus differs fundamentally from germ cell specification in Drosophila. Specifically, I provide evidence that germ cells arise via inductive cell signaling during mid-embryogenesis, rather than via maternally-supplied cytoplasmic determinants localized in the oocyte, as is the case for Drosophila. These data suggest that Drosophila employs an evolutionarily derived mode of germ cell specification. In further support of this hypothesis, I show that several of the genes required for Drosophila germ cell specification perform other functions in both Oncopeltus and Gryllus. I demonstrate that one of these genes, oskar, which is the only gene both necessary and sufficient for germ cell specification in Drosophila, instead functions in nervous system of the cricket, both during embryonic development and in the adult brain. I suggest that the evolution of the derived mode of germ cell specification seen in Drosophila may have involved co-opting oskar into the germ cell specification pathway from an ancestral role in the nervous system.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Extavour, Cassandra G.
Commitee: Abhzanov, Arkhat, Dunn, Casey, Kramer, Elena M.
School: Harvard University
Department: Biology, Organismic and Evolutionary
School Location: United States -- Massachusetts
Source: DAI-B 75/10(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Evolution and Development
Keywords: Cell specification, Evo-devo, Germ cells, Insects, Oskar
Publication Number: 3626596
ISBN: 9781321016024
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