ABSTRACT

Acoels are marine worms that belong to the phylum Xenacoelomorpha, a deep-diverging bilaterian lineage. This makes acoels an attractive system for studying the evolution of major bilaterian traits. Thus far, acoel development has not been described in detail at the morphological and transcriptomic levels in a species in which functional genetic studies are possible. We present a set of developmental landmarks for embryogenesis in the highly regenerative acoel Hofstenia miamia. We generated a developmental staging atlas from zygote to hatched worm based on gross morphology, with accompanying bulk transcriptome data. Hofstenia embryos undergo a stereotyped cleavage program known as duet cleavage, which results in two large vegetal pole ‘macromeres’ and numerous small animal pole ‘micromeres’. These macromeres become internalized as micromere progeny proliferate and move vegetally. We also noted a second, previously undescribed, cell-internalization event at the animal pole, following which we detected major body axes and tissues corresponding to all three germ layers. Our work on Hofstenia embryos provides a resource for mechanistic investigations of acoel development, which will yield insights into the evolution of bilaterian development and regeneration.

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