Insights into the evolution of a signalling molecule

Scientists discover how a molecule’s role changes in evolution from simple metabolite to instructive signal

Among developmental biologists, the signalling molecule retinoic acid is well known for its role in building the vertebrate body. Not much is known, however, about how such signals emerge in evolution. To investigate this, an international team of scientists from the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg, the Sorbonne Universités in France, and the Tomancak lab at the MPI-CBG, as well as others, have studied the role of retinoic acid signalling in a marine worm. In the study published in Science Advances, the team and their collaborators show that in the worm, retinoic acid acts like a metabolic timer that helps neurons to form at the right time and place, during development.

Original Publication

Handberg-Thorsager M, Gutierrez-Mazariegos J et al., The ancestral retinoic acid receptor was a low-affinity sensor triggering neuronal differentiation, Science Advances, published online 21 February, 2018. DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aao1261