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Open Access Correspondence

Evolution of C2H2-zinc finger genes revisited

James H Thomas* and Ryan O Emerson

Author Affiliations

Department of Genome Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 91895, USA

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2009, 9:51  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-9-51

Published: 4 March 2009



A recent study by Tadepally et al. describes the clustering of zinc finger (ZF) genes in the human genome and traces their evolutionary history among several placental mammals with complete or draft genome sequences. One of the main conclusions from the paper is that there is a dramatic rate of gene duplication and gene loss, including the surprising result that 118 human ZF genes are absent in chimpanzee. The authors also present evidence concerning the ancestral order in which the ZF-associated KRAB and SCAN domains were recruited to ZF proteins.


Based on our analysis of two of the largest human ZF gene clusters, we find that nearly all of the human genes have plausible orthologs in chimpanzee. The one exception may be a result of the incomplete sequence coverage in the draft chimpanzee genome. The discrepancy in gene content analysis may result from the authors' dependence on the preliminary NCBI gene prediction set for chimpanzee, which appears to either fail to predict or to mispredict many chimpanzee ZF genes. Similar problems may affect the authors' interpretation of the more divergent dog, mouse, and rat ZF gene complements. In addition, we present evidence that the KRAB domain was recruited to ZF genes before the SCAN domain, rather than the reverse as the authors suggest. This discrepancy appears to result from the fact that the SCAN domain did indeed arise before the KRAB domain but is present only in non-ZF genes until a much later date.


When comparing gene content among species, especially when using draft genome assemblies, dependence on preliminary gene prediction sets can be seriously misleading. In such studies, genic sequences must be identified in a manner that is as independent as possible of prediction sets. In addition, we present evidence that provides a more parsimonious explanation for the large proportion of mammalian KRAB-ZF genes without a SCAN domain.