Genetic experiments over the last few decades have identified many developmental control genes critical for pattern formation and cell fate specification during the development of multicellular organisms. A large fraction of these genes encode transcription factors and signaling molecules, show highly dynamic expression patterns during development, and are deeply evolutionarily conserved and deregulated in various human diseases such as cancer. Because of their importance in development, evolution, and disease, a fundamental question in biology is how these developmental control genes are regulated in such an extensive and precise fashion. Using genomics methods, it has become clear that developmental control genes are a distinct group of genes with special regulatory characteristics. However, a systematic analysis of these characteristics has not been presented. Here we review how developmental control genes were discovered, evaluate their genome-wide regulation and gene structure, discuss emerging evidence for their mode of regulation, and estimate their overall abundance in the genome. Understanding the global regulation of developmental control genes may provide a new perspective on development in the era genomics.
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