With the acquisition of complete genome sequences from several animals, there is renewed interest in the pattern of genome evolution on our own lineage. One key question is whether gene number increased during chordate or vertebrate evolution. It is argued here that comparing the total number of genes between a fly, a nematode and human is not appropriate to address this question. Extensive gene loss after duplication is one complication; another is the problem of comparing taxa that are phylogenetically very distant. Amphioxus and tunicates are more appropriate animals for comparison to vertebrates. Comparisons of clustered homeobox genes, where gene loss can be identified, reveals a one to four mode of evolution for Hox and ParaHox genes. Analyses of other gene families in amphioxus and vertebrates confirm that gene duplication was very widespread on the vertebrate lineage. These data confirm that vertebrates have more genes than their closest invertebrate relatives, acquired through gene duplication.
Key wordsamphioxus evolution gene duplication gene family Hox Parahox
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