Big insight from the little skate: Leucoraja erinacea as a developmental model system

J. Andrew Gillis*, Scott Bennett, Katharine E. Criswell, Jenaid Rees, Victoria A. Sleight, Christine Hirschberger, Dan Calzarette, Sarah Kerr, Jeremy Dasen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

3 Citations (Scopus)


The vast majority of extant vertebrate diversity lies within the bony and cartilaginous fish lineages of jawed vertebrates. There is a long history of elegant experimental investigation of development in bony vertebrate model systems (e.g., mouse, chick, frog and zebrafish). However, studies on the development of cartilaginous fishes (sharks, skates and rays) have, until recently, been largely descriptive, owing to the challenges of embryonic manipulation and culture in this group. This, in turn, has hindered understanding of the evolution of developmental mechanisms within cartilaginous fishes and, more broadly, within jawed vertebrates. The little skate (Leucoraja erinacea) is an oviparous cartilaginous fish and has emerged as a powerful and experimentally tractable developmental model system. Here, we discuss the collection, husbandry and management of little skate brood stock and eggs, and we present an overview of key stages of skate embryonic development. We also discuss methods for the manipulation and culture of skate embryos and illustrate the range of tools and approaches available for studying this system. Finally, we summarize a selection of recent studies on skate development that highlight the utility of this system for inferring ancestral anatomical and developmental conditions for jawed vertebrates, as well as unique aspects of cartilaginous fish biology.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEmerging Model Systems in Developmental Biology
EditorsBob Goldstein, Mansi Srivastava
Number of pages36
ISBN (Print)9780128201541
Publication statusPublished - 22 Mar 2022

Publication series

NameCurrent Topics in Developmental Biology
ISSN (Print)0070-2153

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Rebecca Gelernter, Ray Troll, the Fitzwilliam Museum, Dr. Simon Weigmann, Dr. Myungin Baek, Dr. Heekyung Jung and Prof. Martin Cohn for providing images. We also thank the staff of the Marine Resources Center and the Embryology community of the Marine Biological Laboratory—particularly Profs. Nipam Patel, Lee Niswander, Richard Behringer, Alejandro Sanchez Alvarado, Dave Sherwood, Rich Schneider and Jon Henry—for generously supporting efforts to develop the skate as a developmental model system.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 Elsevier Inc.


  • Cartilaginous fish
  • Embryology
  • Evo-devo
  • Evolution
  • L. erinacea
  • Skate
  • Skeleton
  • Vertebrate


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