Acquisition of multicellularity is a central event in the evolution of Eukaryota. Strikingly, animal multicellularity coincides with the emergence of three intercellular communication pathways - Notch, TGF-β and Wnt - all considered as hallmarks of metazoan development. By investigating Oopsacas minuta and Aphrocallistes vastus, we show here that the emergence of a syncytium and plugged junctions in glass sponges coincides with the loss of essential components of the Wnt signaling (i.e. Wntless, Wnt ligands and Disheveled), whereas core components of the TGF-β and Notch modules appear unaffected. This suggests that Wnt signaling is not essential for cell differentiation, polarity and morphogenesis in glass sponges. Beyond providing a comparative study of key developmental toolkits, we define here the first case of a metazoan phylum that maintained a level of complexity similar to its relatives despite molecular degeneration of Wnt pathways.
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