DOI: 10.1093/bfgp/elad038 ISSN:

Single-cell transcriptomics refuels the exploration of spiralian biology

Laura Piovani, Ferdinand Marlétaz
  • Genetics
  • Molecular Biology
  • Biochemistry
  • General Medicine


Spiralians represent the least studied superclade of bilaterian animals, despite exhibiting the widest diversity of organisms. Although spiralians include iconic organisms, such as octopus, earthworms and clams, a lot remains to be discovered regarding their phylogeny and biology. Here, we review recent attempts to apply single-cell transcriptomics, a new pioneering technology enabling the classification of cell types and the characterisation of their gene expression profiles, to several spiralian taxa. We discuss the methodological challenges and requirements for applying this approach to marine organisms and explore the insights that can be brought by such studies, both from a biomedical and evolutionary perspective. For instance, we show that single-cell sequencing might help solve the riddle of the homology of larval forms across spiralians, but also to better characterise and compare the processes of regeneration across taxa. We highlight the capacity of single-cell to investigate the origin of evolutionary novelties, as the mollusc shell or the cephalopod visual system, but also to interrogate the conservation of the molecular fingerprint of cell types at long evolutionary distances. We hope that single-cell sequencing will open a new window in understanding the biology of spiralians, and help renew the interest for these overlooked but captivating organisms.

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