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Data from: Evolution of the snake body form reveals homoplasy in amniote Hox gene function


Head, Jason J. (2015), Data from: Evolution of the snake body form reveals homoplasy in amniote Hox gene function, Dryad, Dataset,


Hox genes regulate regionalization of the axial skeleton in vertebrates, and changes in their expression have been proposed to be a fundamental mechanism driving the evolution of new body forms. The origin of the snake-like body form, with its deregionalized pre-cloacal axial skeleton, has been explained as either homogenization of Hox gene expression domains9, or retention of standard vertebrate Hox domains with alteration of downstream expression that suppresses development of distinct regions. Both models assume a highly regionalized ancestor, but the extent of deregionalization of the primaxial domain (vertebrae, dorsal ribs) of the skeleton in snake-like body forms has never been analysed. Here we combine geometric morphometrics and maximum-likelihood analysis to show that the pre-cloacal primaxial domain of elongate, limb-reduced lizards and snakes is not deregionalized compared with limbed taxa, and that the phylogenetic structure of primaxial morphology in reptiles does not support a loss of regionalization in the evolution of snakes. We demonstrate that morphometric regional boundaries correspond to mapped gene expression domains in snakes, suggesting that their primaxial domain is patterned by a normally functional Hox code. Comparison of primaxial osteology in fossil and modern amniotes with Hox gene distributions within Amniota indicates that a functional, sequentially expressed Hox code patterned a subtle morphological gradient along the anterior–posterior axis in stem members of amniote clades and extant lizards, including snakes. The highly regionalized skeletons of extant archosaurs and mammals result from independent evolution in the Hox code and do not represent ancestral conditions for clades with snake-like body forms. The developmental origin of snakes is best explained by decoupling of the primaxial and abaxial domains and by increases in somite number, not by changes in the function of primaxial Hox genes.

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