Background: The polychaete annelid Platynereis dumerilii is an emerging model organism for the study of molecular developmental processes, evolution, neurobiology and marine biology. Annelids belong to the Lophotrochozoa, the so far understudied third major branch of bilaterian animals besides deuterostomes and ecdysozoans. P. dumerilii has proven highly relevant to explore ancient bilaterian conditions via comparison to the deuterostomes, because it has accumulated less evolutionary change than conventional ecdysozoan models. Previous staging was mainly referring to hours post fertilization but did not allow matching stages between studies performed at (even slightly) different temperatures. To overcome this, and to provide a first comprehensive description of P. dumerilii normal development, a temperature-independent staging system is needed.
Results: Platynereis dumerilii normal development is subdivided into 16 stages, starting with the zygote and ending with the death of the mature worms after delivering their gametes. The stages described can be easily identified by conventional light microscopy or even by dissecting scope. Developmental landmarks such as the beginning of phototaxis, the visibility of the stomodeal opening and of the chaetae, the first occurrence of the ciliary bands, the formation of the parapodia, the extension of antennae and cirri, the onset of feeding and other characteristics are used to define different developmental stages. The morphology of all larval stages as well as of juveniles and adults is documented by light microscopy. We also provide an overview of important steps in the development of the nervous system and of the musculature, using fluorescent labeling techniques and confocal laser-scanning microscopy. Timing of each developmental stage refers to hours post fertilization at 18 ± 0.1°C. For comparison, we determined the pace of development of larvae raised at 14°C, 16°C, 20°C, 25°C, 28°C and 30°C. A staging ontology representing the comprehensive list of developmental stages of P. dumerilii is available online.
Conclusions: Our atlas of Platynereis dumerilii normal development represents an important resource for the growing Platynereis community and can also be applied to other nereidid annelids.