Analyzing the function of a hox gene: An evolutionary approach


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We present an evolutionary approach to dissecting conserved developmental mechanisms. We reason that important mechanisms for making the bodyplan will act early, to generate the major features of the body and that they will be conserved in evolution across many metazoa, and thus, that they will be available in very different animals. This led to our specific approach of microarrays to screen for very early conserved developmental regulators in parallel in an insect, Drosophila and a vertebrate, Xenopus. We screened for the earliest conserved targets of the ectopically expressed hox gene Hoxc6/Antennapedia in both species and followed these targets up, using in situ hybridization, in the Xenopus system. The results indicate that relatively few of the early Hox target genes are conserved: these are mainly involved in the specification of the antero-posterior body axis and in gastrulation.