Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name


Organizational Unit

College of Natual Science and Mathematics, Biological Sciences

First Advisor

Scott A. Nichols

Second Advisor

J. Todd Blankenship

Third Advisor

Schuyler Van Engelenburg

Fourth Advisor

Daniel M. Mederios


Cell type evolution, Myocyte, Myogenesis, Porifera


Whereas a great deal has been learned about the molecular underpinnings of morphological evolution in animals, much less is known about the origin of novel cell and tissue types. During the time in which the earliest animal lineages were diversifying, fundamental cell and tissue types, such as muscles, arose. Sponges are one of two animal lineages that lack muscles, yet they undergo coordinated full body contractions. Whereas the signaling processes have been studied, the physical mechanisms of contraction are completely uncharacterized. The main purpose of this work is to understand the primary contractile tissue of the sponge Ephydatia muelleri, from a structural, functional, and developmental standpoint. As there is no single unique feature that is shared by all muscle types in animals, a full picture of the contractile tissue of E. muelleri is needed to assess its homology with these tissues. Here the focus is on an endothelial-like tissue containing tissue-level organized actin bundles, which shorten during contractions. Additionally, a muscle-specific paralog of type II-Myosin heavy chain (stMyHC) is found exclusively at these structures. Contractions appear to be initiated by release of internal Ca2+stores and are regulated by phosphorylation of myosin regulatory light chain by myosin light chain kinase. From a developmental perspective, formation of contractile bundles depends on myocardin related transcription factor (MRTF), an important myogenic factor in many animals. Comparative studies on the myoepithelial muscles of the cnidarian model Nematostella vectensis, found evidence of conserved developmental regulation by MRTF. Taken together, these finding suggest the contractile tissue of E. muelleri shares elements of homology with muscles of other animals and can aid in understanding key cellular innovations involved in the evolution of this tissue type.

Publication Statement

Copyright is held by the author. User is responsible for all copyright compliance.

Rights Holder

Jeffrey J. Colgren


Received from ProQuest

File Format




File Size

350 p.


Molecular biology, Cellular biology, Evolution and development