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PLoS One. 2012;7(2):e32231. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0032231. Epub 2012 Feb 24.

Primitive duplicate Hox clusters in the European eel's genome.

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  • 1ZF-screens BV, Leiden, The Netherlands.


The enigmatic life cycle and elongated body of the European eel (Anguilla anguilla L., 1758) have long motivated scientific enquiry. Recently, eel research has gained in urgency, as the population has dwindled to the point of critical endangerment. We have assembled a draft genome in order to facilitate advances in all provinces of eel biology. Here, we use the genome to investigate the eel's complement of the Hox developmental transcription factors. We show that unlike any other teleost fish, the eel retains fully populated, duplicate Hox clusters, which originated at the teleost-specific genome duplication. Using mRNA-sequencing and in situ hybridizations, we demonstrate that all copies are expressed in early embryos. Theories of vertebrate evolution predict that the retention of functional, duplicate Hox genes can give rise to additional developmental complexity, which is not immediately apparent in the adult. However, the key morphological innovation elsewhere in the eel's life history coincides with the evolutionary origin of its Hox repertoire.

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