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Open Access Research article

Dicyema Pax6 and Zic: tool-kit genes in a highly simplified bilaterian

Jun Aruga1*, Yuri S Odaka1, Akiko Kamiya1 and Hidetaka Furuya2

Author Affiliations

1 Laboratory for Comparative Neurogenesis, RIKEN Brain Science Institute, Wako 351-0198, Japan

2 Department of Biology, Graduate School of Science, Osaka University, Toyonaka, Osaka 560-0043, Japan

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2007, 7:201  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-7-201

Published: 25 October 2007



Dicyemid mesozoans (Phylum Dicyemida) are simple (8–40-cell) cephalopod endoparasites. They have neither body cavities nor differentiated organs, such as nervous and gastrointestinal systems. Whether dicyemids are intermediate between Protozoa and Metazoa (as represented by their "Mesozoa" classification) or degenerate species of more complex metazoans is controversial. Recent molecular phylogenetic studies suggested that they are simplified bilaterians belonging to the Lophotrochozoa. We cloned two genes developmentally critical in bilaterian animals (Pax6 and Zic), together with housekeeping genes (actin, fructose-bisphosphate aldolase, and ATP synthase beta subunit) from a dicyemid to reveal whether their molecular phylogeny supported the "simplification" hypothesis, and to clarify evolutionary changes in dicyemid gene structure and expression profiles.


Genomic/cDNA sequence analysis showed that 1) the Pax6 molecular phylogeny and Zic intron positions supported the idea of dicyemids as reduced bilaterians; 2) the aa sequences deduced from the five genes were highly divergent; and 3) Dicyema genes contained very short introns of uniform length. In situ hybridization analyses revealed that Zic genes were expressed in hermaphroditic gonads, and Pax6 was expressed weakly throughout the developmental stages of the 2 types of embryo and in the hermaphroditic gonads.


The accelerated evolutionary rates and very short and uniform intron may represent a part of Dicyema genomic features. The presence and expression of the two tool-kit genes (Pax6 and Zic) in Dicyema suggests that they can be very versatile genes even required for the highly reduced bilaterian like Dicyema. Dicyemids may be useful models of evolutionary body plan simplification.