Gene duplication is widely regarded as the predominant mechanism by which genes with new functions and associated phenotypic novelties arise. A whole genome duplication occurred shortly before the most recent common ancestor of teleosts, the most diverse chordate group, resulting in duplication and retention of many Hox cluster genes. Because they play a key role in determination of body plan morphology, it has been widely assumed that Hox genes play a key role in the evolution of diverse metazoan body plans. However, it is not clear whether certain aspects of molecular evolution, such as asymmetric divergence and neofunctionalization, contribute to the initial retention of paralogs. We investigate the molecular evolution and functional divergence of the duplicated HoxA13 paralogs in zebrafish to determine when asymmetric divergence and functional divergence occurred after the duplication event. Our findings demonstrate the contribution of gene duplication to the evolution of novel features through evolutionary mechanisms other than those traditionally investigated, such as positive selection occurring immediately after gene duplication. Rather, we find a latent build up of molecular changes in a gene associated with the development of a novel feature in a very diverse group of fishes.
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Vol. 63 • No. 6