Evidence that disproves a long-standing assumption about fish development gives insight into evolution of skeletons

August 28, 2013
Development: Assumption about fish skeletons proves false
Magenta-colored fluorescent labeling of cells in the scales of a 30-day old fish shows that they originate in the mesoderm of the embryo. The green labeling indicates bone precursor cells. Credit: A*STAR Institute of Molecular Cell Biology

A Singapore-based research team has used fluorescent labeling of embryonic cell populations to pinpoint the origin of scales and fins in modern-day fish. These tissues are evolutionary relics of the first skeletons and were widely assumed to originate from an embryonic cell population known as the 'trunk neural crest'. Now, research led by Tom Carney of the A*STAR Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology has shown that scales and fins actually develop from a cell population called the mesoderm.

In both mammals and fish, two embryonic cell populations contribute to the formation of the skeleton—the cranial neural crest generates most of the skull and , and the mesoderm generates the remainder of the skeleton. In mammals, trunk , a third population, do not contribute to skeletal development, but previous cell-labeling studies suggested that they did in ancient vertebrates and still do in some modern animals. Despite inaccurate cell labeling in these studies, the widely held assumption remained. However, no-one had directly demonstrated the role of these trunk neural crest cells.

Carney and his team labeled embryonic with fluorescent molecules to determine which populations contribute to the fin skeleton and scales in modern fish. New cells originating from these populations also expressed the label, allowing the team to see which cells in the body developed from each population.

"We found that and fin rays derive entirely from the mesoderm, with no [trunk] neural crest contribution," explains Carney. "This [finding] indicates that the mesoderm can generate this ancient type of bone and suggests that when skeletons first evolved, they developed from the mesoderm."

The team's discovery is contrary to the previous assumption about the role of the trunk neural crest in skeleton development. They therefore investigated further using and more cell labeling.

"We went on to show that the trunk neural crest in fish does not generate any skeletal-type cells," says Carney. "This suggests that the contribution of cranial neural crest cells to the skeleton may have evolved independently in the head and has never been a general feature of the whole neural crest."

The results are likely to change our understanding of skeleton evolution. Carney says that: "Many of the important 'innovations' of the skeleton can now be considered as 'inventions' of the mesoderm, with the neural crest only playing a specific role in generating the skeleton of the head."

Explore further: Origin of cells for connective tissues of skull and face challenged

More information: Lee, R. T. H., Thiery, J. P. & Carney, T. J. Dermal fin rays and scales derive from mesoderm, not neural crest, Current Biology 23, R336–R337 (2013). www.cell.com/current-biology/abstract/S0960-9822%2813%2900262-5

Lee, R. T. H., Knapik, E. W., Thiery, J. P. & Carney, T. J. An exclusively mesodermal origin of fin mesenchyme demonstrates that zebrafish trunk neural crest does not generate ectomesenchyme, Development 140, 2923–2932 (2013). dev.biologists.org/content/140/14/2923

Related Stories

New cranial neural crest cell line developed

September 19, 2012

Researchers have successfully developed a stable population of neural crest cells derived from mice that can be grown in large quantities in the laboratory and that demonstrates the potential to develop into many different ...

Recommended for you

In changing oceans, cephalopods are booming

May 23, 2016

Humans have changed the world's oceans in ways that have been devastating to many marine species. But, according to new evidence, it appears that the change has so far been good for cephalopods, the group including octopuses, ...

A 100-million-year partnership on the brink of extinction

May 24, 2016

A relationship that has lasted for 100 million years is at serious risk of ending, due to the effects of environmental and climate change. A species of spiny crayfish native to Australia and the tiny flatworms that depend ...

Rare evolutionary event detected in the lab

May 23, 2016

It took nearly a half trillion tries before researchers at The University of Texas at Austin witnessed a rare event and perhaps solved an evolutionary puzzle about how introns, non-coding sequences of DNA located within genes, ...

Automating DNA origami opens door to many new uses

May 27, 2016

Researchers can build complex, nanometer-scale structures of almost any shape and form, using strands of DNA. But these particles must be designed by hand, in a complex and laborious process.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.