Lamprey, the living jawless vertebrate, has been regarded as one of the most primitive groups of vertebrates. The evolutionary phylogenetic position of the lamprey promises to provide hints about the origin of the vertebrate genome as well as the origin of the body plan, a part of which may be written in the genome. Since the lamprey split from the gnathostome lineage early in the history of vertebrates, the shared developmental mechanisms in lampreys and gnathostomes can be regarded as possessed by the hypothetical common ancestor of these animals, whereas the gnathostome-specific developmental mechanisms that are absent from lampreys indicate that they are relatively new, added to the developmental program only after the split of gnathostomes. Thus, the sequential establishment of the gnathostome body plan is inherently related to the history of genomic duplication events. In this review, recent molecular developmental and evolutionary molecular research on the living lampreys are summarized and discussed, taking vertebrate comparative morphology and embryology into consideration.
Copyright 2002 Wiley-Liss, Inc.