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Evolution reveals an independent route for diversity in animal form

ms, fish, molluscs, insects, and mammals. While all "higher" animals clearly either have a typical Hox system or had ancestors that did, the evolutionary origins of the Hox system are unclear, and the Hox-gene status of cnidarians has been controversial.

The authors of the new study demonstrate that although Hox-like genes are present in cnidarians, most of these have evolved by gene duplication independently since cnidarians diverged from the higher animal lineage. The researchers found no equivalent of a Hox cluster in two representative cnidarians, and the patterns of expression of the cnidarian Hox-like genes differ radically across the phylum and are inconsistent with the expression patterns exhibited by typical Hox-system genes. The authors conclude that the Hox system is an invention of higher animals (the Bilateria) and, therefore, is not a defining characteristic of metazoan animals.

Knowing this, the spectacular morphological diversity in Cnidaria comes as a surprise. The Cnidaria is one of the most diverse and species-rich of animal groups, ranging in shape and size from microscopic solitary polyps to massive and highly differentiated colonial siphonophores up to 40 meters long. One clear implication of the paper is that, contrary to expectations, the Hox system is not necessary for the elaboration of substantial morphological complexity.


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Source:Cell Press


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