The evolution of new organs is difficult to study because most vertebrate organs evolved only once, more than 500 million years ago. An ideal model for understanding complex organ evolution is the placenta, a structure that is present in live bearing reptiles and mammals (amniotes), which has evolved independently more than 115 times. Using transcriptomics, we characterized the uterine gene expression patterns through the reproductive cycle of a viviparous skink lizard, Pseudemoia entrecasteauxii. Then we compare these patterns with the patterns of gene expression from two oviparous skinks Lampropholis guichenoti and Lerista bougainvillii. While thousands of genes are differentially expressed between pregnant and non-pregnant uterine tissue in the viviparous skink, few differentially expressed genes were identified between gravid and non-gravid oviparous skinks. This finding suggests that in P. entrecasteauxii, a pregnant-specific gene expression profile has evolved, allowing for the evolution of pregnancy-specific innovations in the uterus. We find substantial gene expression differences between the uterus of the chorioallantoic and the yolk sac placenta in P. entrecasteauxii, suggesting these placental regions are specialized for different placental functions. In particular, the chorioallantoic placenta is likely a major site of nutrient transport by membrane-bound transport proteins, while the yolk sac placenta also likely transports nutrients but via apocrine secretions. We discuss how the evolution of transcription factor networks is likely to underpin the evolution of the new transcriptional states in the uterine tissue of viviparous reptiles.
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- convergent evolution