New Study Probes Ancient Past of a Body Plan Code

New work from the Gibson Lab has provided a view into the evolutionary history of some of the genes involved in the determination of animal body plans. The findings reveal clues about ancestral functions of Hox genes, which are known to be important regulators of body plan layout for organisms such as spiders, fish, dogs, and humans that have roughly symmetrical right and left sides about a head-to-tail axis.

The researchers studied Hox gene function in the starlet sea anemone, which is a member of a group of radially symmetric animals that also includes jellyfish and corals. Using gene knockdown technology, the researchers report evidence that Hox gene function is important in regulating the sea anemone body plan during development and speculate that a primitive “Hox code” may have been co-opted for use in head-to-tail body patterning by bilaterally symmetrical animals. These findings give researchers a better understanding of the evolution of developmental processes.

These findings were reported in the September 28, 2018, issue of Science.