Ping Wu, Lianhai Hou, Maksim Plikus, Michael Hughes, Jeffrey Scehnet, Sanong Suksaweang, Randall Widelitz, Ting-Xin Jiang and Cheng-Ming Chuong
Department of Pathology, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA, USA.
Integuments form the boundary between an organism and the environment. The evolution of novel developmental mechanisms in integuments and appendages allows animals to live in diverse ecological environments. Here we focus on amniotes. The major achievement for reptile skin is an adaptation to the land with the formation of a successful barrier. The stratum corneum enables this barrier to prevent water loss from the skin and allowed amphibian / reptile ancestors to go onto the land. Overlapping scales and production of beta-keratins provide strong protection. Epidermal invagination led to the formation of avian feather and mammalian hair follicles in the dermis. Both adopted a proximal - distal growth mode which maintains endothermy. Feathers form hierarchical branches which produce the vane that makes flight possible. Recent discoveries of feathered dinosaurs in China inspire new thinking on the origin of feathers. In the laboratory, epithelial - mesenchymal recombinations and molecular mis-expressions were carried out to test the plasticity of epithelial organ formation. We review the work on the transformation of scales into feathers, conversion between barbs and rachis and the production of "chicken teeth". In mammals, tilting the balance of the BMP pathway in K14 noggin transgenic mice alters the number, size and phenotypes of different ectodermal organs, making investigators rethink the distinction between morpho-regulation and pathological changes. Models on the evolution of feathers and hairs from reptile integuments are discussed. A hypothetical Evo-Devo space where diverse integument appendages can be placed according to complex phenotypes and novel developmental mechanisms is presented.