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2.  More than Meets the Eye: Functionally Salient Changes in Internal Bone Architecture Accompany Divergence in Cichlid Feeding Mode 
African cichlids have undergone extensive and repeated adaptive radiations in foraging habitat. While the external morphology of the cichlid craniofacial skeleton has been studied extensively, biomechanically relevant changes to internal bone architecture have been largely overlooked. Here we explore two fundamental questions: (1) Do changes in the internal architecture of bone accompany shifts in foraging mode? (2) What is the genetic basis for this trait? We focus on the maxilla, which is an integral part of the feeding apparatus and an element that should be subjected to significant bending forces during biting. Analyses of μCT scans revealed clear differences between the maxilla of two species that employ alternative foraging strategies (i.e., biting versus suction feeding). Hybrids between the two species exhibit maxillary geometries that closely resemble those of the suction feeding species, consistent with a dominant mode of inheritance. This was supported by the results of a genetic mapping experiment, where suction feeding alleles were dominant to biting alleles at two loci that affect bone architecture. Overall, these data suggest that the internal structure of the cichlid maxilla has a tractable genetic basis and that discrete shifts in this trait have accompanied the evolution of alternate feeding modes.
PMCID: PMC3362014  PMID: 22666625
3.  Role of Chd7 in Zebrafish: A Model for CHARGE Syndrome 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(2):e31650.
CHARGE syndrome is caused by mutations in the CHD7 gene. Several organ systems including the retina, cranial nerves, inner ear and heart are affected in CHARGE syndrome. However, the mechanistic link between mutations in CHD7 and many of the organ systems dysfunction remains elusive. Here, we show that Chd7 is required for the organization of the neural retina in zebrafish. We observe an abnormal expression or a complete absence of molecular markers for the retinal ganglion cells and photoreceptors, indicating that Chd7 regulates the differentiation of retinal cells and plays an essential role in retinal cell development. In addition, zebrafish with reduced Chd7 display an abnormal organization and clustering of cranial motor neurons. We also note a pronounced reduction in the facial branchiomotor neurons and the vagal motor neurons display aberrant positioning. Further, these fish exhibit a severe loss of the facial nerves. Knock-down of Chd7 results in a curvature of the long body axis and these fish develop irregular shaped vertebrae and have a reduction in bone mineralization. Chd7 knockdown also results in a loss of proper segment polarity illustrated by flawed efnb2a and ttna expression, which is associated with later vascular segmentation defects. These critical roles for Chd7 in retinal and vertebral development were previously unrecognized and our results provide new insights into the role of Chd7 during development and in CHARGE syndrome pathogenesis.
PMCID: PMC3282775  PMID: 22363697
5.  Early, H+-V-ATPase-dependent proton flux is necessary for consistent left-right patterning of non-mammalian vertebrates 
Development (Cambridge, England)  2006;133(9):1657-1671.
Biased left-right asymmetry is a fascinating and medically important phenomenon. We provide molecular genetic and physiological characterization of a novel, conserved, early, biophysical event that is crucial for correct asymmetry: H+ flux. A pharmacological screen implicated the H+-pump H+-V-ATPase in Xenopus asymmetry, where it acts upstream of early asymmetric markers. Immunohistochemistry revealed an actin-dependent asymmetry of H+-V-ATPase subunits during the first three cleavages. H+-flux across plasma membranes is also asymmetric at the four- and eight-cell stages, and this asymmetry requires H+-V-ATPase activity. Abolishing the asymmetry in H+ flux, using a dominant-negative subunit of the H+-V-ATPase or an ectopic H+ pump, randomized embryonic situs without causing any other defects. To understand the mechanism of action of H+-V-ATPase, we isolated its two physiological functions, cytoplasmic pH and membrane voltage (Vmem) regulation. Varying either pH or Vmem, independently of direct manipulation of H+-V-ATPase, caused disruptions of normal asymmetry, suggesting roles for both functions. V-ATPase inhibition also abolished the normal early localization of serotonin, functionally linking these two early asymmetry pathways. The involvement of H+-V-ATPase in asymmetry is conserved to chick and zebrafish. Inhibition of the H+-V-ATPase induces heterotaxia in both species; in chick, H+-V-ATPase activity is upstream of Shh; in fish, it is upstream of Kupffer's vesicle and Spaw expression. Our data implicate H+-V-ATPase activity in patterning the LR axis of vertebrates and reveal mechanisms upstream and downstream of its activity. We propose a pH- and Vmem-dependent model of the early physiology of LR patterning.
PMCID: PMC3136117  PMID: 16554361
Left-right asymmetry; H+-V-ATPase; V-ATPase; Xenopus; Chick; Zebrafish; Axial patterning; Cytoplasmic pH; Membrane voltage
6.  Modularity of the Oral Jaws Is Linked to Repeated Changes in the Craniofacial Shape of African Cichlids 
The African cichlids of the East-African rift-lakes provide one of the most dramatic examples of adaptive radiation known. It has long been thought that functional decoupling of the oral and pharyngeal jaws in cichlids has facilitated their explosive evolution. Recent research has also shown that craniofacial evolution from radiations in lakes Victoria, Malawi, and Tanganyika has occurred along a shared primary axis of shape divergence, whereby the preorbital region of the skull changes in a manner that is, relatively independent from other head regions. We predicted that the preorbital region would comprise a variational module and used an extensive dataset from each lake that allowed us to test this prediction using a model selection approach. Our findings supported the presence of a preorbital module across all lakes, within each lake, and for Malawi, within sand and rock-dwelling clades. However, while a preorbital module was consistently present, notable differences were also observed among groups. Of particular interest, a negative association between patterns of variational modularity was observed between the sand and rock-dwelling clades, a patter consistent with character displacement. These findings provide the basis for further experimental research involving the determination of the developmental and genetic bases of these patterns of modularity.
PMCID: PMC3119590  PMID: 21716745
7.  Genetic Basis of Differential Opsin Gene Expression in Cichlid Fishes 
Journal of evolutionary biology  2010;23(4):840-853.
Visual sensitivity can be tuned by differential expression of opsin genes. Among African cichlid fishes, seven cone opsin genes are expressed in different combinations to produce diverse visual sensitivities. To determine the genetic architecture controlling these adaptive differences, we analyzed genetic crosses between species expressing different complements of opsin genes. Quantitative genetic analyses suggest that expression is controlled by only a few loci with correlations among some genes. Genetic mapping identifies clear evidence of trans-acting factors in two chromosomal regions that contribute to differences in opsin expression as well as one cis-regulatory region. Therefore, both cis and trans regulation are important. The simple genetic architecture suggested by these results may explain why opsin gene expression is evolutionarily labile, and why similar patterns of expression have evolved repeatedly in different lineages.
PMCID: PMC2996586  PMID: 20210829
gene expression; opsin; cis regulation; trans-acting factor
8.  Using Whole Mount in situ Hybridization to Link Molecular and Organismal Biology 
Whole mount in situ hybridization (WISH) is a common technique in molecular biology laboratories used to study gene expression through the localization of specific mRNA transcripts within whole mount specimen. This technique (adapted from Albertson and Yelick, 2005) was used in an upper level undergraduate Comparative Vertebrate Biology laboratory classroom at Syracuse University. The first two thirds of the Comparative Vertebrate Biology lab course gave students the opportunity to study the embryology and gross anatomy of several organisms representing various chordate taxa primarily via traditional dissections and the use of models. The final portion of the course involved an innovative approach to teaching anatomy through observation of vertebrate development employing molecular techniques in which WISH was performed on zebrafish embryos. A heterozygous fibroblast growth factor 8 a (fgf8a) mutant line, ace, was used. Due to Mendelian inheritance, ace intercrosses produced wild type, heterozygous, and homozygous ace/fgf8a mutants in a 1:2:1 ratio. RNA probes with known expression patterns in the midline and in developing anatomical structures such as the heart, somites, tailbud, myotome, and brain were used. WISH was performed using zebrafish at the 13 somite and prim-6 stages, with students performing the staining reaction in class. The study of zebrafish embryos at different stages of development gave students the ability to observe how these anatomical structures changed over ontogeny. In addition, some ace/fgf8a mutants displayed improper heart looping, and defects in somite and brain development. The students in this lab observed the normal development of various organ systems using both external anatomy as well as gene expression patterns. They also identified and described embryos displaying improper anatomical development and gene expression (i.e., putative mutants).
For instructors at institutions that do not already own the necessary equipment or where funds for lab and curricular innovation are limited, the financial cost of the reagents and apparatus may be a factor to consider, as will the time and effort required on the part of the instructor regardless of the setting. Nevertheless, we contend that the use of WISH in this type of classroom laboratory setting can provide an important link between developmental genetics and anatomy. As technology advances and the ability to study organismal development at the molecular level becomes easier, cheaper, and increasingly popular, many evolutionary biologists, ecologists, and physiologists are turning to research strategies in the field of molecular biology. Using WISH in a Comparative Vertebrate Biology laboratory classroom is one example of how molecules and anatomy can converge within a single course. This gives upper level college students the opportunity to practice modern biological research techniques, leading to a more diversified education and the promotion of future interdisciplinary scientific research.
PMCID: PMC3197306  PMID: 21490578
9.  Bentho-Pelagic Divergence of Cichlid Feeding Architecture Was Prodigious and Consistent during Multiple Adaptive Radiations within African Rift-Lakes 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(3):e9551.
How particular changes in functional morphology can repeatedly promote ecological diversification is an active area of evolutionary investigation. The African rift-lake cichlids offer a calibrated time series of the most dramatic adaptive radiations of vertebrate trophic morphology yet described, and the replicate nature of these events provides a unique opportunity to test whether common changes in functional morphology have repeatedly facilitated their ecological success.
Methodology/Principal Findings
Specimens from 87 genera of cichlid fishes endemic to Lakes Tanganyka, Malawi and Victoria were dissected in order to examine the functional morphology of cichlid feeding. We quantified shape using geometric morphometrics and compared patterns of morphological diversity using a series of analytical tests. The primary axes of divergence were conserved among all three radiations, and the most prevalent changes involved the size of the preorbital region of the skull. Even the fishes from the youngest of these lakes (Victoria), which exhibit the lowest amount of skull shape disparity, have undergone extensive preorbital evolution relative to other craniofacial traits. Such changes have large effects on feeding biomechanics, and can promote expansion into a wide array of niches along a bentho-pelagic ecomorphological axis.
Here we show that specific changes in trophic anatomy have evolved repeatedly in the African rift lakes, and our results suggest that simple morphological alterations that have large ecological consequences are likely to constitute critical components of adaptive radiations in functional morphology. Such shifts may precede more complex shape changes as lineages diversify into unoccupied niches. The data presented here, combined with observations of other fish lineages, suggest that the preorbital region represents an evolutionary module that can respond quickly to natural selection when fishes colonize new lakes. Characterizing the changes in cichlid trophic morphology that have contributed to their extraordinary adaptive radiations has broad evolutionary implications, and such studies are necessary for directing future investigations into the proximate mechanisms that have shaped these spectacular phenomena.
PMCID: PMC2833203  PMID: 20221400
10.  Evolutionary Mutant Models for Human Disease 
Trends in genetics : TIG  2008;25(2):74-81.
Although induced mutations in traditional laboratory animals have been valuable as models for human diseases, they have some important limitations. Here we propose a complementary approach to discover genes and mechanisms that might contribute to human disorders: the analysis of evolutionary mutant models whose adaptive phenotypes mimic maladaptive human diseases. If the type and mode of action of mutations favored by natural selection in wild populations are similar to those that contribute to human diseases, then studies in evolutionary mutant models have the potential to identify novel genetic factors and gene-by-environment interactions that affect human health and underlie human disease.
PMCID: PMC2828043  PMID: 19108930
11.  Evolution of a unique predatory feeding apparatus: functional anatomy, development and a genetic locus for jaw laterality in Lake Tanganyika scale-eating cichlids 
BMC Biology  2010;8:8.
While bilaterality is a defining characteristic of triploblastic animals, several assemblages have managed to break this symmetry in order to exploit the adaptive peaks garnered through the lateralization of behaviour or morphology. One striking example of an evolved asymmetry in vertebrates comes from a group of scale-eating cichlid fishes from Lake Tanganyika. Members of the Perissodini tribe of cichlid fishes have evolved dental and craniofacial asymmetries in order to more effectively remove scales from the left or right flanks of prey. Here we examine the evolution and development of craniofacial morphology and laterality among Lake Tanganyika scale-eating cichlids.
Using both geometric and traditional morphometric methods we found that the craniofacial evolution in the Perissodini involved discrete shifts in skeletal anatomy that reflect differences in habitat preference and predation strategies. Further, we show that the evolutionary history of the Perissodini is characterized by an accentuation of craniofacial laterality such that certain taxa show elaborate sided differences in craniofacial shape consistent with the sub-partitioning of function between sides of the head during attacks. Craniofacial laterality in the scale-eating specialist Perissodus microlepis was found to be evident early in development and exhibited a unimodal distribution, which is contrary to the adult condition where jaw laterality has been described as a discrete, bimodal antisymmetry. Finally, using linkage and association analyses we identified a conserved locus for jaw handedness that segregates among East African cichlids.
We suggest that, during the evolution of the Perissodini, selection has accentuated a latent, genetically determined handedness of the craniofacial skeleton, enabling the evolution of jaw asymmetries in order to increase predation success. Continued work on the developmental genetic basis of laterality in the Perissodini will facilitate a better understanding of the evolution of this unique group of fishes, as well as of left-right axis determination among vertebrates in general.
PMCID: PMC2828976  PMID: 20102595
12.  Molecular pedomorphism underlies craniofacial skeletal evolution in Antarctic notothenioid fishes 
Pedomorphism is the retention of ancestrally juvenile traits by adults in a descendant taxon. Despite its importance for evolutionary change, there are few examples of a molecular basis for this phenomenon. Notothenioids represent one of the best described species flocks among marine fishes, but their diversity is currently threatened by the rapidly changing Antarctic climate. Notothenioid evolutionary history is characterized by parallel radiations from a benthic ancestor to pelagic predators, which was accompanied by the appearance of several pedomorphic traits, including the reduction of skeletal mineralization that resulted in increased buoyancy.
We compared craniofacial skeletal development in two pelagic notothenioids, Chaenocephalus aceratus and Pleuragramma antarcticum, to that in a benthic species, Notothenia coriiceps, and two outgroups, the threespine stickleback and the zebrafish. Relative to these other species, pelagic notothenioids exhibited a delay in pharyngeal bone development, which was associated with discrete heterochronic shifts in skeletal gene expression that were consistent with persistence of the chondrogenic program and a delay in the osteogenic program during larval development. Morphological analysis also revealed a bias toward the development of anterior and ventral elements of the notothenioid pharyngeal skeleton relative to dorsal and posterior elements.
Our data support the hypothesis that early shifts in the relative timing of craniofacial skeletal gene expression may have had a significant impact on the adaptive radiation of Antarctic notothenioids into pelagic habitats.
PMCID: PMC2824663  PMID: 20053275
13.  Limits of Principal Components Analysis for Producing a Common Trait Space: Implications for Inferring Selection, Contingency, and Chance in Evolution 
PLoS ONE  2009;4(11):e7957.
Comparing patterns of divergence among separate lineages or groups has posed an especially difficult challenge for biologists. Recently a new, conceptually simple methodology called the “ordered-axis plot” approach was introduced for the purpose of comparing patterns of diversity in a common morphospace. This technique involves a combination of principal components analysis (PCA) and linear regression. Given the common use of these statistics the potential for the widespread use of the ordered axis approach is high. However, there are a number of drawbacks to this approach, most notably that lineages with the greatest amount of variance will largely bias interpretations from analyses involving a common morphospace. Therefore, without meeting a set of a priori requirements regarding data structure the ordered-axis plot approach will likely produce misleading results.
Methodology/Principal Findings
Morphological data sets from cichlid fishes endemic to Lakes Tanganyika, Malawi, and Victoria were used to statistically demonstrate how separate groups can have differing contributions to a common morphospace produced by a PCA. Through a matrix superimposition of eigenvectors (scale-free trajectories of variation identified by PCA) we show that some groups contribute more to the trajectories of variation identified in a common morphospace. Furthermore, through a set of randomization tests we show that a common morphospace model partitions variation differently than group-specific models. Finally, we demonstrate how these limitations may influence an ordered-axis plot approach by performing a comparison on data sets with known alterations in covariance structure. Using these results we provide a set of criteria that must be met before a common morphospace can be reliably used.
Our results suggest that a common morphospace produced by PCA would not be useful for producing biologically meaningful results unless a restrictive set of criteria are met. We therefore suggest biologists be aware of the limitations of the ordered-axis plot approach before employing it on their own data, and possibly consider other, less restrictive methods for addressing the same question.
PMCID: PMC2776347  PMID: 19956767
14.  Fgf8 haploinsufficiency results in distinct craniofacial defects in adult zebrafish 
Developmental biology  2007;306(2):505-515.
Significant progress has been made toward understanding the role of fgf8 in directing early embryonic patterning of the pharyngeal skeleton. Considerably less is known about the role this growth factor plays in the coordinated development, growth, and remodeling of the craniofacial skeleton beyond embryonic stages. To better understand the contributions of fgf8 in the formation of adult craniofacial architecture, we analyzed the skeletal anatomy of adult aceti282a/fgf8 heterozygous zebrafish. Our results revealed distinct skeletal defects including facial asymmetries, aberrant craniofacial geometry, irregular patterns of cranial suturing, and ectopic bone formation. These defects are similar in presentation to several human craniofacial disorders (e.g., craniosynostosis, hemifacial microsomia), and may be related to increased levels of bone metabolism observed in aceti282a/fgf8 heterozygotes. Moreover, skeletal defects observed in aceti282a/fgf8 heterozygotes are consistent with expression patterns of fgf8 in the mature craniofacial skeleton. These data reveal previously unrecognized roles for fgf8 during skeletogenesis, and provide a basis for future investigations into the mechanisms that regulate craniofacial development beyond the embryo.
PMCID: PMC2701160  PMID: 17448458
Craniofacial; fgf8; Asymmetry; Cranial Sutures; Morphometrics; Haploinsufficiency

Results 1-14 (14)