Similarity of morphological composition and developmental patterning in paired fins of the elephant shark

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Abstract: Jawed vertebrates, or gnathostomes, have two sets of paired appendages, pectoral and pelvic fins in fishes and fore-and hindlimbs in tetrapods. As for paired limbs, paired fins are purported serial homologues, and the advent of pelvic fins has been hypothesized to have resulted from a duplication of the developmental mechanisms present in the pectoral fins, but re-iterated at a posterior location. Developmental similarity of gene expression between pectoral and pelvic fins has been documented in chondrichthyans, but a detailed morphological description of the progression of paired fin development for this group is still lacking. We studied paired fin development in an ontogenetic series of a phylogenetically basal chondrichthyan, the elephant shark Callorhinchus milii. A strong similarity in the morphology and progression of chondrification between the pectoral and pelvic fins was found, which could be interpretated as further evidence of serial homology in paired fins, that could have arisen by duplication. Furthermore, this high degree of morphological and developmental similarity suggests the presence of morphological and developmental modules within paired fins, as observed in paired limbs. This is the first time morphological and developmental modules are described for the paired fins of chimaeras.

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