Lancelets ('amphioxus') are the modern survivors of an ancient chordate lineage, with a fossil record dating back to the Cambrian period. Here we describe the structure and gene content of the highly polymorphic approx520-megabase genome of the Florida lancelet Branchiostoma floridae, and analyse it in the context of chordate evolution. Whole-genome comparisons illuminate the murky relationships among the three chordate groups (tunicates, lancelets and vertebrates), and allow not only reconstruction of the gene complement of the last common chordate ancestor but also partial reconstruction of its genomic organization, as well as a description of two genome-wide duplications and subsequent reorganizations in the vertebrate lineage. These genome-scale events shaped the vertebrate genome and provided additional genetic variation for exploitation during vertebrate evolution
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