Fibril-forming (fibrillar) collagens are extracellular matrix proteins conserved in all multicellular animals. Vertebrate members of the fibrillar collagen family are essential for the formation of bone and teeth, tissues that characterise vertebrates. The potential role played by fibrillar collagens in vertebrate evolution has not been considered previously largely because the family has been around since the sponge and it was unclear precisely how and when those particular members now found in vertebrates first arose. We present evidence that the classical vertebrate fibrillar collagens share a single common ancestor that arose at the very dawn of the vertebrate world and prior to the associated genome duplication events. Furthermore, we present a model, 'molecular incest', that not only accounts for the characteristics of the modern day vertebrate fibrillar collagen family but demonstrates the specific effects genome or gene duplications may have on the evolution of multimeric proteins in general.
Copyright 2003 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.