The origin of the Hox/ParaHox genes, the Ghost Locus hypothesis and the complexity of the first animal

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A key aim in evolutionary biology is to deduce ancestral states in order to better understand the evolutionary origins of clades of interest and the diversification process(es) that have elaborated them. These ancestral deductions can hit difficulties when undetected loss events are misinterpreted as ancestral absences. With the ever-increasing amounts of animal genomic sequence data we are gaining a much clearer view of the preponderance of differential gene losses across animal lineages. This has become particularly clear with recent progress in our understanding of the origins of the Hox/ParaHox developmental control genes relative to the earliest branching lineages of the animal kingdom: the sponges (Porifera), comb jellies (Ctenophora) and placozoans (Placozoa). These reassessments of the diversity and complexity of developmental control genes in the earliest animal ancestors need to go hand-in-hand with complementary advances in comparative morphology, phylogenetics and palaeontology in order to clarify our understanding of the complexity of the last common ancestor of all animals. The field is currently undergoing a shift from the traditional consensus of a sponge-like animal ancestor from which morphological and molecular elaboration subsequently evolved, to a scenario of a more complex animal ancestor, with subsequent losses and simplifications in various lineages.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)333-341
Number of pages9
JournalBriefings in Functional Genomics
Issue number5
Early online date4 Dec 2015
Publication statusPublished - 5 Sept 2016


  • Animal evolution
  • Homeobox genes
  • Animal phylogeny
  • Ediacaran


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