How do intercellular signals that pattern cell fates vary in evolution? During nematode vulva development, precursor cells acquire one of three fates in a pattern centered around the gonadal anchor cell. Non-vulval fates are at the periphery, outer and inner vulval fates are towards the center. In Caenorhabditis elegans, the three fates are specified around the same time by an induction by the anchor cell and lateral signaling between the vulva precursor cells. We find that, in three other nematode species (Panagrolaimus, Oscheius and Rhabditella spp.) spanning two families, the centered pattern is obtained by two temporally distinct gonadal inductions. The first induction specifies vulval fates; the second induction specifies the inner vulval fates in a subset of the precursors' daughters. This evolutionary change in the spatiotemporal connectivity of cell interactions allows centering of the pattern between two precursors in Panagrolaimus.

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