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Evolution of mitotic spindle behavior during the first asymmetric embryonic division of nematodes.

Aurore-Cecile Valfort, Caroline Launay, Marie Semon, and Marie Delattre (2018)

PLoS Biol, 16(1):e2005099.

Asymmetric cell division is essential to generate cellular diversity. In many animal cells, the cleavage plane lies perpendicular to the mitotic spindle, and it is the spindle positioning that dictates the size of the daughter cells. Although some properties of spindle positioning are conserved between distantly related model species and different cell types, little is known of the evolutionary robustness of the mechanisms underlying this event. We recorded thefirst embryonic division of 42 species of nematodes closely related to Caenorhabditis elegans, which is an excellent model system to study the biophysical properties of asymmetric spindle positioning. Our recordings, corresponding to 128 strains from 27 Caenorhabditis and 15 non-Caenorhabditis species (accessible at, constitute a powerful collection of subcellular phenotypes to study the evolution of various cellular processes across species. In the present work, we analyzed our collection to the study of asymmetric spindle positioning. Although all the strains underwent an asymmetric first cell division, they exhibited large intra-and inter-species variations in the degree of cell asymmetry and in several parameters controlling spindle movement, including spindle oscillation, elongation, and displacement. Notably, these parameters changed frequently during evolution with no apparent directionality in the species phylogeny, with the exception of spindle transverse oscillations, which were an evolutionary innovation at the base of the Caenorhabditis genus. These changes were also unrelated to evolutionary variations in embryo size. Importantly, spindle elongation, displacement, and oscillation each evolved independently. This finding contrasts starkly with expectations based on C. elegans studies and reveals previously unrecognized evolutionary changes in spindle mechanics. Collectively, these data demonstrate that, while the essential process of asymmetric cell division has been conserved over the course of nematode evolution, the underlying spindle movement parameters can combine in various ways. Like other developmental processes, asymmetric cell division is subject tosystem drift.

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