Two orthodenticle-related genes in the short-germ beetle Tribolium castaneum
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To investigate the molecular basis of head evolution, we searched for genes related to the Drosophila orthodenticle (otd) homeobox gene in the short-germ beetle Tribolium castaneum. Unexpectedly, we found that there are two otd-related genes in Tribolium, with predicted homeodomains highly similar to that of the single Drosophila gene. One of the two genes (Tc otd-1) is more related in both amino acid sequence and expression pattern to fruitfly otd. Tc otd-1 is expressed in a broad anterior stripe in the blastoderm embryo, suggesting a role in early head segmentation similar to that of the Drosophila gene. The second gene (Tc otd-2) is more similar in sequence to the otd-related genes isolated from different vertebrate species (the Otx gene family). Tc otd-2 is not transcribed in the blastoderm, but is expressed later in more limited subsets of cells in the anterior brain. Both Tribolium genes and the Drosophila gene are, unlike the vertebrate genes, also expressed at the developing ventral midline of the embryo. Our results are consistent with the idea that an otd/Otx gene specified anterior head structures in the last ancestor common to arthropods and vertebrates. Within the arthropod lineage, we propose that this gene acquired a function in cells at the developing midline prior to the duplication that generated the two Tribolium genes.
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