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Unraveling genomic regulatory networks in the simple chordate, Ciona intestinalis


The draft genome of the primitive chordate, Ciona intestinalis, was published three years ago. Since then, significant progress has been made in utilizing Ciona's genomic and morphological simplicity to better understand conserved chordate developmental processes. Extensive annotation and sequencing of staged EST libraries make the Ciona genome one of the best annotated among those that are publicly available. The formation of the Ciona tadpole depends on simple, well-defined cellular lineages, and it is possible to trace the lineages of key chordate tissues such as the notochord and neural tube to the fertilized egg. Electroporation methods permit the targeted expression of regulatory genes and signaling molecules in defined cell lineages, as well as the rapid identification of regulatory DNAs underlying cell-specific gene expression. The recent sequencing of a second Ciona genome (C savignyi) permits the use of simple alignment algorithms for the identification of conserved noncoding sequences, including microRNA genes and enhancers. Detailed expression profiles are now available for almost every gene that encodes a regulatory protein or cell-signaling molecule. The combination of gene-expression profiles, comparative genome analysis, and gene-disruption assays should permit the determination of high-resolution genomic regulatory networks underlying the specification of basic chordate tissues such as the heart, blood, notochord, and neural tube.

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