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Med-type GATA factors and the evolution of mesendoderm specification in nematodes


In the nematode, C elegans, the divergent GATA-type transcription factors MED-1 and MED-2 are encoded by an unlinked, redundant pair of intronless genes. The med-1,2 genes are among the first to be activated in the embryo and are critical for the specification of the 7-cell stage MS (mesoderm) and E (endoderm) precursor cells. We have previously shown that the binding site recognized by MED-1 is a noncanonical RAGTATAC site that is not expected from the resemblance of its single C4-type zinc finger to those of other known GATA factors, which recognize the consensus HGATAR. To date, no MED-like zinc fingers have been described outside of C. elegans. In order to understand the evolution of these transcription factors, and the evolution of gene networks that specify early cell fates in Caenorhabditis, we have identified med sequence homologs in the related nematodes C. briggsae and C. remanei. While C. briggsae encodes two med-like genes similar to C. elegans, we find evidence for seven distinct med-like genes in C. remanei. Somewhat unexpectedly, the coding regions of all med genes appear to lack introns. We report that the med homologs have similar expression in their respective species. We further show that the C. briggsae homologs, and at least five of the seven C. remanei homologs, can fully complement the embryonic lethal phenotype of a C. elegans med-1,2(-) strain. We conclude that Med function and expression have been conserved over tens of millions of years of evolution, and that there may be a mechanism that selects against the acquisition of introns in these genes. (c) 2005 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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