The Hox gene cluster patterns the anterior-posterior axis of bilaterian animals. In animals such as mice the organisation of the genes within the cluster is intimately associated with how the genes are regulated and function during embryogenesis. In other lineages, such as flies, nematodes and urochordates there is no such constraint on cluster maintenance, and the Hox clusters in these animals have broken apart.
In order to understand the role that the Hox cluster has had in animal evolution it is imperative to discover the organisation of the cluster in a wide variety of lineages and the mechanisms regulating the genes in these diverse taxa. We are attempting to characterise the Hox clusters of several lineages of supposedly less-derived animals (amphioxus, polychaetes and priapulids) as a means to understanding the ancestral forms of the cluster across the bilaterians.
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