Evolution of HOX cluster genes

Unfortunately, being on call this weekend and having had a bit of a rough last couple of days, I haven't had much of a chance to write anything. Fortunately, there's interesting stuff I can refer my readers to until I manage to find time to feed the never-ending hunger of the blog. For example, I happen to be a homeobox gene maven. My doctoral thesis involved the discovery and characterization of a previously unknown homeobox gene, and I've studied such genes on and off over the last 15 years.

That's why I was glad to see that PZ Myers has nicely summarized a review article in the recent Nature Reviews Genetics about the evolution of HOX gene clusters. (It's also good to see that, in the same issue, there's also a review article by William McGinnis, one of the discoverers of homeobox genes, back in 1984.) The homeobox gene I study happens not to be a HOX cluster gene, but it is nonetheless part of the homeobox gene family and does a number of interesting things relevant to cancer biology. In any case, PZ boils down a complicated subject in an easy-to-understand fashion. Enjoy. I'll try to get something more substantive posted by Monday. Of course, that doesn't rule out fluff posts between now and then that, hopefully, you'll find entertaining--assuming, of course, I manage to get them done between all the rounding on our rather large stable of in-house patients, trying to do some last minute Christmas shopping, and going to our cancer institute Christmas party tonight. (As an aside, it's a bit of a bummer being on call tonight, because the host always has some very fine quality wines and beers, which I'll have to forego for the most part, other than perhaps one glass. I guess instead I'll just have to dive into the excellent food he usually serves.)

PZ's article reminds me, though, that I really need to do a blog piece explaining homeobox genes from my perspective, namely their involvement in health and disease. It's something I've been meaning to do for over a year now, since almost the very beginning of this blog. As you would expect, PZ writes about HOX genes from the perspective of an evolutionary biologist, but HOX cluster genes (and homeobox genes outside the HOX cluster) are fascinating for more than just their role during embryogenesis in body plan and organ formation and how studying the differences in their sequences can help biologists deduce how various organisms evolved. They do a lot of cool things in the adult organism relevant to cancer biology, cardiovascular biology, and, yes, even the biology of autism. I could easily write several pieces about the role of homeobox genes in health and disease in humans. Perhaps I'll add that to my list of topics to start writing about after New Years Day. What say you?


  1. Yes! Please. I've read obout HOX cluster genes from the viewpoint of evolutionary development and embryology, but have read little on their functions in adults.

    Evolutionary biologist's seem to be subject to the 'publish or perish' problem more than research physicians. So while I can find popular books about evolutionary biology, there doesn't seem to be any books for the non-specialist about genetic research in adult or even aging animals.

    Of course, a lot of that could be linked to companies and universities wanting to make money off the research, but there is probably a lot of publicly available data from journals which would be fascinating.


  2. For HOX genes, the role of some genes in the adult organism is known. They do not simply play a role in embryogenesis, organogenesis (you will probably like this contribution from PZ about the Evolution of the mammalian vagina http://pharyngula.org/index/weblog/evolution_of_the_mammalian_vagina/ ), morphogenesis and establishing a differentiation status (as in hematopoetic stem cell development, hair folicle development and divers glands) but instead also maintain this status in adult tissues.

    But what about your thoughts concerning homedomain genes and diseases? I would be very interested in that.

    Sonja (in the web also known as viralexia)


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