Vertebrate eyes begin as a small patch of cells at the most anterior end of the early brain called the eye field. If these cells are removed from an amphibian embryo, the eyes do not form. If the eye field is transplanted to another location on the embryo or cultured in a dish, it forms eyes. These simple cut and paste experiments were performed at the beginning of the last century and helped to define the embryonic origin of the vertebrate eye. The genes necessary for eye field specification and eventual eye formation, by contrast, have only recently been identified. These genes and the molecular mechanisms regulating the initial formation of the Xenopus laevis eye field are the subjects of this review.
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