Recently, a novel family of genes with a region of homology to the mouse T locus, which is known to play a crucial, and conserved, role in vertebrate development, has been discovered. The region of homology has been named the T-box. The T-box domain of the prototypical T locus product is associated with sequence-specific DNA binding activity. In this report, we have characterized four members of the T-box gene family from the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans. All lie in close proximity to each other in the middle of chromosome III. Homology analysis among all completely sequenced T-box products indicates a larger size for the conserved T-box domain (166 to 203 residues) than previously reported. Phylogenetic analysis suggests that one C. elegans T-box gene may be a direct ortholog of the mouse Tbx2 and Drosophila omb genes. The accumulated data demonstrate the ancient nature of the T-box gene family and suggest the existence of at least three separate T-box-containing genes in a common early metazoan ancestor to nematodes and vertebrates.
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