Embryonic development is arguably the most complex process an organism undergoes during its lifetime, and understanding this complexity is best approached with a systems-level perspective. The sea urchin has become a highly valuable model organism for understanding developmental specification, morphogenesis, and evolution. As a non-chordate deuterostome, the sea urchin occupies an important evolutionary niche between protostomes and vertebrates. Lytechinus variegatus (Lv) is an Atlantic species that has been well studied, and which has provided important insights into signal transduction, patterning, and morphogenetic changes during embryonic and larval development. The Pacific species, Strongylocentrotus purpuratus (Sp), is another well-studied sea urchin, particularly for gene regulatory networks (GRNs) and cis-regulatory analyses. A well-annotated genome and transcriptome for Sp are available, but similar resources have not been developed for Lv. Here, we provide an analysis of the Lv transcriptome at 11 timepoints during embryonic and larval development. Temporal analysis suggests that the gene regulatory networks that underlie specification are well-conserved among sea urchin species. We show that the major transitions in variation of embryonic transcription divide the developmental time series into four distinct, temporally sequential phases. Our work shows that sea urchin development occurs via sequential intervals of relatively stable gene expression states that are punctuated by abrupt transitions.
Keywords: Gene regulatory network; Principal component analysis; RNA-Seq; Sea urchin.
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