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Mol Biol Evol. 2005 Dec;22(12):2386-94. Epub 2005 Aug 3.

Evolutionary change of the numbers of homeobox genes in bilateral animals.

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  • 1Institute of Molecular Evolutionary Genetics, Department of Biology, Pennsylvania State University, USA.


It has been known that the conservation or diversity of homeobox genes is responsible for the similarity and variability of some of the morphological or physiological characters among different organisms. To gain some insights into the evolutionary pattern of homeobox genes in bilateral animals, we studied the change of the numbers of these genes during the evolution of bilateral animals. We analyzed 2,031 homeodomain sequences compiled from 11 species of bilateral animals ranging from Caenorhabditis elegans to humans. Our phylogenetic analysis using a modified reconciled-tree method suggested that there were at least about 88 homeobox genes in the common ancestor of bilateral animals. About 50-60 genes of them have left at least one descendant gene in each of the 11 species studied, suggesting that about 30-40 genes were lost in a lineage-specific manner. Although similar numbers of ancestral genes have survived in each species, vertebrate lineages gained many more genes by duplication than invertebrate lineages, resulting in more than 200 homeobox genes in vertebrates and about 100 in invertebrates. After these gene duplications, a substantial number of old duplicate genes have also been lost in each lineage. Because many old duplicate genes were lost, it is likely that lost genes had already been differentiated from other groups of genes at the time of gene loss. We conclude that both gain and loss of homeobox genes were important for the evolutionary change of phenotypic characters in bilateral animals.

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