Gene expression does not support the developmental hourglass model in three animals with Spiralian development

Longjun Wu, Kailey E. Ferger, J. David Lambert

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


It has been proposed that animals have a pattern of developmental evolution resembling an hourglass because the most conserved development stage-often called the phylotypic stage-is always in midembryonic development. Although the topic has been debated for decades, recent studies using molecular data such as RNA-seq gene expression data sets have largely supported the existence of periods of relative evolutionary conservation in middevelopment, consistent with the phylotypic stage and the hourglass concepts. However, so far this approach has only been applied to a limited number of taxa across the tree of life. Here, using established phylotranscriptomic approaches, we found a surprising reverse hourglass pattern in two molluscs and a polychaete annelid, representatives of the Spiralia, an understudied group that contains a large fraction of metazoan body plan diversity. These results suggest that spiralians have a divergent midembryonic stage, with more conserved early and late development, which is the inverse of the pattern seen in almost all other organisms where these phylotranscriptomic approaches have been reported. We discuss our findings in light of proposed reasons for the phylotypic stage and hourglass model in other systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1373-1383
Number of pages11
JournalMolecular biology and evolution
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 1 2019


  • Evolutionary development
  • Evolutionary genomics
  • Hourglass
  • Phylotranscriptomic
  • Phylotypic
  • Spiralian

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics


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