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The cephalochordate amphioxus is the best available proxy for the last common invertebrate ancestor of the vertebrates. During the last decade, the developmental genetics of amphioxus have been extensively examined for insights into the evolutionary origin and early evolution of the vertebrates. Comparisons between expression domains of homologous genes in amphioxus and vertebrates have strengthened proposed homologies between specific body parts. Molecular genetic studies have also highlighted parallels in the developmental mechanisms of amphioxus and vertebrates. In both groups, a similar nested pattern of Hox gene expression is involved in rostrocaudal patterning of the neural tube, and homologous genes also appear to be involved in dorsoventral neural patterning. Studies of amphioxus molecular biology have also hinted that the protochordate ancestor of the vertebrates included cell populations that modified their developmental genetic pathways during early vertebrate evolution to yield definitive neural crest and neurogenic placodes. We also discuss how the application of expressed sequence tag and gene-mapping approaches to amphioxus have combined with developmental studies to advance our understanding of chordate genome evolution. We conclude by considering the potential offered by the sequencing of the amphioxus genome, which was completed in late 2004. © 2005 NRC.

Original publication




Journal article


Canadian Journal of Zoology

Publication Date





90 - 100