Breaking the A-P axis: Evolution of diverse asexual reproduction strategies in Convolutriloba acoels
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The defining characteristic of the Bilateria is the presence of a distinct head end and tail end, which defines the anterior-posterior (A-P) axis, a feature that is established during embryogenesis and generally remains unaltered during the lifetime of an organism. While a few bilaterians have evolved asexual reproduction strategies that allow them to subdivide the A-P axis, acoels in the genus Convolutriloba have an unparalleled ability to alter the A-P axis during modes of transverse fission, longitudinal fission, and reversed polarity budding. Convolutriloba acoels thus offer an exceptional opportunity to investigate the mechanisms that allow for the radical modification of an already established A-P body axis and to explore the evolution and development of diverse asexual reproduction strategies among related species. In this study, I reconstruct the evolutionary history of asexual reproduction in the Convolutriloba and compare the diverse modes of asexual reproduction at the level of body-wall musculature, nervous system development, and cell proliferation while also exploring the regenerative potentials of tissues across species with different modes of asexual reproduction. In addition, I further explore the unusual process of A-P axis reversal that occurs during reversed polarity budding in C. retrogemma through studies of body patterning and regeneration. The results of these analyses suggest that a rich developmental toolkit of regenerative abilities, including the ability to utilize both epimorphosis and morphallaxis, to regenerate all parts of its body even from a small fragment, and to produce bifurcated A-P axes were present in the ancestor of the Convolutriloba allowing for the evolution of A-P axis modifications unlike any other bilaterian group. This toolkit along with the evolution of a seemingly unpatterned zone of tissue within the body of C. retrogemma capable of generating new anterior axes appear to have allowed this species to evolve the ability to form reversed A-P axes during budding.