Molecular evidence suggests that Acoelomorpha, a proposed phylum composed of acoel and Nemertodermatida flatworms, are the most basal bilaterian animals. Hox and ParaHox gene complements characterised so far in acoels consist of a small set of genes, comprising representatives of anterior, central and posterior genes, altogether Hox and ParaHox, but no PG3-Xlox representatives have been reported. It has been proposed that this might be the ancestral Hox repertoire in basal bilaterians. However, no studies of the other members of the group, the Nemertodermatida, have been done. In order to get a more complete picture of the basal bilaterian Hox and ParaHox complement, we have analysed the Hox/ParaHox complement of the nemertodermatid Nemertoderma westbladi. We have found representatives of two central and one posterior Hox genes, as well as an Xlox and a CaudalParaHox gene. From our data we conclude that a PG3-Xlox gene was present in the ancestor of bilaterians. These findings support the speculation that basal bilaterians already had the beginnings of the extended central Hox set, driving back gene duplications in the central part of the Hox cluster deeper in phylogeny than previously suggested.
- Basal bilateria