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Evolution and development of vertebral regionalization in fishes

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We are back hosting the science seminar series in person, so do come and join us for the first talk of the term. Grab some lunch from the Darwin servery and enjoy an interesting science talk and discussion over lunch. Looking forward to seeing you there.

The vertebral column is a key feature of the vertebrate skeleton, and in tetrapods is divided into at least four anatomical regions, which are determined by the anterior expression boundaries of Hox genes. In fishes the backbone is thought to consist of just trunk and tail regions, and the relationship between Hox genes and region boundaries is poorly understood. Variation in vertebral morphology has been documented in several fish species, implying that fish vertebral columns might be more complex than previously appreciated. However, because fish regions are often more subtle than tetrapod regions, quantitative tests for regionalization are needed. I used morphometrics to quantify and compare vertebral shape across fishes and segmented linear regressions to identify region numbers and boundaries. I found that highly regionalized vertebral columns are actually common among fishes. To test whether Hox genes patterned vertebral regions in the earliest vertebrates, I characterised Hox expression in a cartilaginous fish, the skate (Leucoraja erinacea), and tracked the fate of somites at Hox expression boundaries. I found that expression boundaries of tetrapod region-marking genes also align with regional transitions in the skate vertebral column, suggesting that hox-based vertebral regionalization did not originate with tetrapods, but rather has a much deeper evolutionary history.

This talk is part of the Darwin College Science Seminars series.

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