Turing's turtles all the way down: A conserved role of EDAR in the carapacial ridge suggests a deep homology of prepatterns across ectodermal appendages

Anat Rec (Hoboken). 2023 Jun;306(6):1201-1213. doi: 10.1002/ar.25096. Epub 2022 Oct 14.


The scutes of the turtle shell are epidermal shields that begin their formation during the early stages of shell development. Like other skin appendages, turtle scutes are hypothesized to be patterned by reaction-diffusion systems. We have previously established ex vivo and in silico systems to study these mechanisms experimentally and have further shown that mathematical models can explain the dynamics of the induction of turtle scute primordia and the generation of final scute architecture. Using these foundations, we expand our current knowledge and test the roles of ectodysplasin and activin signaling in the development of turtle scutes. We find that these molecules play important roles in the prepatterning of scute primordia along the carapacial ridge and show that blocking Edar signaling may lead to a complete loss of marginal scute primordia. We show that it is possible to reproduce these observations using simple mathematical modeling, thereby suggesting a stabilizing role for ectodysplasin within the reaction-diffusion mechanisms. Finally, we argue that our findings further entrench turtle scutes within a class of developmental systems composed of hierarchically nested reaction-diffusion mechanisms, which is conserved across ectodermal organs.

Keywords: ectodermal appendage; evo devo; mathematical model; pattern formation; turtle shell.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Ectodysplasins
  • Embryonic Development
  • Epidermis
  • Signal Transduction
  • Turtles*


  • Ectodysplasins