Ever since their first report in 1984, Antennapedia-type homeobox (Hox) genes have been involved in such a series of interesting observations, in particular due to their conserved clustered organization between vertebrates and arthropods, that one may legitimately wonder about the origin of this heuristic value. In this essay, I first consider different examples where Hox gene clusters have been instrumental in providing conceptual advances, taken from various fields of research and mostly involving vertebrate embryos. These examples touch upon our understanding of genomic evolution, the revisiting of 19th century views on the relationships between development and evolution and the building of a new framework to understand long-range and pleiotropic gene regulation during development. I then discuss whether the high value of the Hox gene family, when considered as an epistemic object, is related to its clustered structure (and the absence thereof in some animal species) and, if so, what is it in such particular genetic oddities that made them so generous in providing the scientific community with interesting information.
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