Investigating the functional and evolutionary significance of Group B Sox genes in arthropods

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Maher, Joshua Paul 

Group B Sox genes play a critical developmental role in both vertebrates and insects. Within the model species Drosophila melanogaster, two SoxB genes, Dichaete and SoxNeuro, have been shown to act as ‘master regulators’ in the early development of the central nervous system. SoxB genes have only been characterised in a handful of arthropod species thus far, with most work to date focusing on drosophilids. The purpose of this investigation was twofold. First, I set out to resolve the phylogenetic origins of arthropod SoxB genes, as mutually exclusive models explaining their emergence are still contested. I have identified and annotated the SoxB of several invertebrate taxa. In total, my investigation includes 24 different metazoan taxa, and represents the largest investigation of arthropod SoxB phylogeny to date. In light of this research, I have proposed a new model of SoxB evolution which resolves the conflicting elements of the two primary competing models. Second, to study the evolution of SoxB in terms of functional conservation/divergence, I selected the emerging model organism Tribolium castaneum to draw a comparative analysis with Drosophila melanogaster. I first began by characterising the spatiotemporal expression patterns of SoxNeuro mRNA in early Tribolium embryos using whole mount in situ hybridisation, and examined published Dichaete expression patterns in the context of central nervous system development in T. castaneum. Using these data, I draw a comparison to the expression profiles of Dichaete and SoxNeuro orthologues in Drosophila melanogaster and other species. I have found that both Dichaete and SoxNeuro expression patterns in the developing central nervous system are remarkably well-conserved across species. I also attempted to characterise genome-wide binding for both Dichaete and SoxNeuro proteins in Tribolium in what would have represented the first genomic investigation of its kind in this emerging species. Using a tethered DNA adenine methyltransferase (Dam) enzyme for both SoxNeuro and Dichaete, I hoped to characterise the genomic loci with which each protein interacts within the beetle genome (a technique known as DamID). Unfortunately, these last set of experiments have proved unsuccessful, despite several attempts which have made use of different promoters, different DNA enrichment methodologies, and tackling unforeseen DNA contamination issues. Nevertheless, the troubleshooting experiments that I have carried out will pave the way for further genomic experiments in Tribolium, easing the establishment of genomic research in this emerging organism.

Russell, Steven
Sox, Drosophila, Tribolium, neuroblast, DamID, SoxNeuro, Dichaete, central nervous system, Group B Sox, ChIP
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Awarding Institution
University of Cambridge
Medical Research Council