Two modes of germ cell formation are known in animals. Specification through maternally inherited germ plasm occurs in many well-characterized model organisms, but most animals lack germ plasm by morphological and functional criteria. The only known alternative mechanism is induction, experimentally described only in mice, which specify germ cells through bone morphogenetic protein (BMP) signal-mediated induction of a subpopulation of mesodermal cells. Until this report, no experimental evidence of an inductive germ cell signal for specification has been available outside of vertebrates. Here we provide functional genetic experimental evidence consistent with a role for BMP signaling in germ cell formation in a basally branching insect. We show that primordial germ cells of the cricket Gryllus bimaculatus transduce BMP signals and require BMP pathway activity for their formation. Moreover, increased BMP activity leads to ectopic and supernumerary germ cells. Given the commonality of BMP signaling in mouse and cricket germ cell induction, we suggest that BMP-based germ cell formation may be a shared ancestral mechanism in animals.
Keywords: Orthoptera; TGF-β; germ line; inductive signaling; piwi.