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Vertebral morphology in archosaurs and Hox genes: Plateosaurus neck (free pdf)

Ben Creisler

A new paper in open access:

Christine Böhmer, Oliver W. M. Rauhut & Gert Wörheide (2015)
Correlation between Hox code and vertebral morphology in archosaurs.
Proceedings of the Royal Society B 282: 20150077.
DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2015.0077

The relationship between developmental genes and phenotypic variation
is of central interest in evolutionary biology. An excellent example
is the role of Hox genes in the anteroposterior regionalization of the
vertebral column in vertebrates. Archosaurs (crocodiles, dinosaurs
including birds) are highly variable both in vertebral morphology and
number. Nevertheless, functionally equivalent Hox genes are active in
the axial skeleton during embryonic development, indicating that the
morphological variation across taxa is likely owing to modifications
in the pattern of Hox gene expression. By using geometric
morphometrics, we demonstrate a correlation between vertebral Hox code
and quantifiable vertebral morphology in modern archosaurs, in which
the boundaries between morphological subgroups of vertebrae can be
linked to anterior Hox gene expression boundaries. Our findings reveal
homologous units of cervical vertebrae in modern archosaurs, each with
their specific Hox gene pattern, enabling us to trace these homologies
in the extinct sauropodomorph dinosaurs, a group with highly variable
vertebral counts. Based on the quantifiable vertebral morphology, this
allows us to infer the underlying genetic mechanisms in vertebral
evolution in fossils, which represents not only an important case
study, but will lead to a better understanding of the origin of
morphological disparity in recent archosaur vertebral columns.

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