The ancestral role of the Hox gene family is specifying morphogenetic differences along the main body axis. In vertebrates, HoxD genes were also co-opted along with the emergence of novel structures such as limbs and genitalia. We propose that these functional recruitments relied on the appearance, or implementation, of regulatory sequences outside of the complex. Whereas transgenic human and murine HOXD clusters could function during axial patterning, in mice they were not expressed outside the trunk. Accordingly, deletion of the entire cluster abolished axial expression, whereas recently acquired regulatory controls were preserved.
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