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This zebrafish embryo developed a limb that looks more like a leg than a fin, after being engineered to produce the HoxD13 protein within the cells at the tip of the developing fin. Changes in HoxD13 production likely contributed to the transition from fin to leg development, during animal evolution. Credit: Freitas et al., Developmental Cell
Vertebrates’ transition to living on land, instead of only in water, represented a major event in the history of life. Now, researchers reporting in the December issue of the journal Developmental Cell provide new evidence that the development of hands and feet occurred through the gain of new DNA elements that activate particular genes.
“We found that in the zebrafish, the mouse Hoxd13 control element was capable of driving gene expression in the distal fin rudiment. This result indicates that molecular machinery capable of activating this control element was also present in the last common ancestor of finned and legged animals and is proven by its remnants in zebrafish,” says Dr. Casares.