Hox Gene Loss during Dynamic Evolution of the Nematode Cluster.
Aboobaker AA., Blaxter ML.
HOX GENES ARE IMPORTANT: their central role in anterior-posterior patterning provides a framework for molecular comparison of animal body plan evolution. The nematode Caenorhabditis elegans stands out as having a greatly reduced Hox gene complement. To address this, orthologs of C. elegans Hox genes were identified in six species from across the Nematoda, and they show that rapid homeodomain sequence evolution is a general feature of nematode Hox genes. Some nematodes express additional Hox genes belonging to orthology groups that are absent from C. elegans but present in other bilaterian animals. Analysis of the genomic environment of a newly identified Brugia malayi Hox6-8 ortholog (Bm-ant-1) revealed that it lay downstream of the Bm-egl-5 Hox gene and that their homeodomain exons are alternately cis spliced to the same 5' exon. This organization may represent an intermediate state in Hox gene loss via redundancy. The Hox clusters of nematodes are the product of a dynamic mix of gene loss and rapid sequence evolution, with the most derived state observed in the model C. elegans.