Insights into the evolution of a signalling molecule

Retinoic acid signalling is crucial for the marine worm’s nervous system (green) to develop
Retinoic acid signalling is crucial for the marine worm’s nervous system (green) to develop. IMAGE: Mette Handberg-Thorsager/EMBL

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EMBL scientists discover how a molecule’s role changes 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, the Arendt lab at EMBL in Heidelberg 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.