Homeotic Evolution in the Mammalia

Filler AG (2007) Homeotic Evolution in the Mammalia: Diversification of Therian Axial Seriation and the Morphogenetic Basis of Human Origins. PLoS ONE 2(10): e1019. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0001019

It was a quite difficult reading for me, I had to add stout to usual coffee to go through it, but I found it really great. I will never look at a vertebra the same way as before. Certainly one of the wildest time travels I had the last 30 years, following homeotic gradients across 250 extant and fossil mammalian species and their antecedents over a period of 220 million years.

Did I said already that I always loved homeotic gradients? Probably. Let me add one thing: I love people discussing them the way Dr Filler did.

Despite the rising interest in homeotic genes, little has been known about the course and pattern of evolution of homeotic traits across the mammalian radiation. An array of emerging and diversifying homeotic gradients revealed by this study appear to generate new body plans and drive evolution at a large scale.

Methodology/Principal Findings
This study identifies and evaluates a set of homeotic gradients across 250 extant and fossil mammalian species and their antecedents over a period of 220 million years. These traits are generally expressed as co-linear gradients along the body axis rather than as distinct segmental identities. Relative position or occurrence sequence vary independently and are subject to polarity reversal and mirroring. Five major gradient modification sets are identified: (1)–quantitative changes of primary segmental identity pattern that appeared at the origin of the tetrapods ; (2)–frame shift relation of costal and vertebral identity which diversifies from the time of amniote origins; (3)–duplication, mirroring, splitting and diversification of the neomorphic laminar process first commencing at the dawn of mammals; (4)–emergence of homologically variable lumbar lateral processes upon commencement of the radiation of therian mammals and ; (5)–inflexions and transpositions of the relative position of the horizontal septum of the body and the neuraxis at the emergence of various orders of therian mammals. Convergent functional changes under homeotic control include laminar articular engagement with septo-neural transposition and ventrally arrayed lumbar transverse process support systems.

Clusters of homeotic transformations mark the emergence point of mammals in the Triassic and the radiation of therians in the Cretaceous. A cluster of homeotic changes in the Miocene hominoid Morotopithecus that are still seen in humans supports establishment of a new “hominiform” clade and suggests a homeotic origin for the human upright body plan.

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