Novel genes, ancient genes, and gene co-option contributed to the genetic basis of the radula, a molluscan innovation.

Research paper by Leon L Hilgers, Stefanie S Hartmann, Michael M Hofreiter, Thomas T von Rintelen

Indexed on: 20 Apr '18Published on: 20 Apr '18Published in: Molecular biology and evolution


The radula is the central foraging organ and apomorphy of the Mollusca. However, in contrast to other innovations, including the mollusk shell, genetic underpinnings of radula formation remain virtually unknown. Here we present the first radula formative tissue transcriptome using the viviparous freshwater snail Tylomelania sarasinorum and compare it to foot tissue and the shell-building mantle of the same species. We combine differential expression, functional enrichment, and phylostratigraphic analyses to identify both specific and shared genetic underpinnings of the three tissues as well as their dominant functions and evolutionary origins. Gene expression of radula formative tissue is very distinct, but nevertheless more similar to mantle than to foot. Generally, the genetic bases of both radula and shell formation were shaped by novel orchestration of preexisting genes and continuous evolution of novel genes. A significantly increased proportion of radula-specific genes originated since the origin of stem-mollusks, indicating that novel genes were especially important for radula evolution. Genes with radula-specific expression in our study are frequently also expressed during the formation of other lophotrochozoan hard structures, like chaetae (hes1, arx), spicules (gbx), and shells of mollusks (gbx, heph) and brachiopods (heph), suggesting gene co-option for hard structure formation. Finally, a Lophotrochozoa-specific chitin synthase with a myosin motor domain (CS-MD), which is expressed during mollusk and brachiopod shell formation, had radula-specific expression in our study. CS-MD potentially facilitated the construction of complex chitinous structures and points at the potential of molecular novelties to promote the evolution of different morphological innovations.