Single-cell RNA sequencing as a tool to study panarthropod evolution

Sammanfattning: Panarthropoda is a monophyletic group comprised of arthropods and lobopods, molting animals with a segmented body, paired appendages, dorsal brain, and ventral nerve cords. Evolutionary Developmental Biology (EvoDevo) is an interdisciplinary field that seeks to understand how changes in development form the basis for variations in morphology and phenotypic evolution, including the genetic network underlying these processes. To study the evolution of panarthropods from such an EvoDevo perspective, one typically uses standard molecular techniques. A first step here is to investigate the expression of a gene of interest in order to find out where and when it is transcribed during development. A hallmark of EvoDevo studies is its comparative character, often with respect to model organisms such as the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster.Recently developed single-cell RNA sequencing technologies allow the profiling of a plethora of gene expression on the level of individual cells, and thus provide a much more detailed insight into gene expression.In Paper I, I applied standard molecular techniques used in EvoDevo research such as PCR, gene cloning, probe synthesis and whole mount in situ hybridization, to investigate the embryonic expression patterns of the tiptop/teashirt (tio/tsh) and spalt (sal) genes in a range of arthropods representing all main groups of this phylum, and an onychophoran. In the arthropod model Drosophila, these genes act as trunk-specifiers, and the objective of my work was to find out if this is conserved in Arthropoda or even Panarthropoda as a whole. I provide comprehensive data on arthropod tio/tsh and sal expression, including the first data from an onychophoran. The results support the idea that tio/tsh genes are involved in the development of ‘trunk’ segments by regulating limb development. In addition, my data suggest that the function of Sal is unlikely to be conserved in trunk vs head development. Early expression of sal, however, is in line with a potential homeotic function of this gene, at least in Arthropoda.In Paper II, I provide an embryonic tissue dissociation protocol for embryos of the common house spider Parasteatoda tepidariorum that I developed and that I successfully applied for single-cell RNA sequencing. In addition, I report on the progress of this experiment, and provide and discuss preliminary results.