Background: The Onychophora are a probable sister group to Arthropoda, one of the most intensively studied animal phyla from a developmental perspective. Pioneering work on the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster and subsequent investigation of other arthropods has revealed important roles for Wnt genes during many developmental processes in these animals.
Results: We screened the embryonic transcriptome of the onychophoran Euperipatoides kanangrensis and found that at least 11 Wnt genes are expressed during embryogenesis. These genes represent 11 of the 13 known subfamilies of Wnt genes.
Conclusions: Many onychophoran Wnt genes are expressed in segment polarity gene-like patterns, suggesting a general role for these ligands during segment regionalization, as has been described in arthropods. During early stages of development, Wnt2, Wnt4, and Wnt5 are expressed in broad multiple segment-wide domains that are reminiscent of arthropod gap and Hox gene expression patterns, which suggests an early instructive role for Wnt genes during E. kanangrensis segmentation.