SET domain-containing proteins represent an evolutionarily conserved family of epigenetic regulators, which are responsible for most histone lysine methylation. Since some of these genes have been revealed to be essential for embryonic development, we propose that the zebrafish, a vertebrate model organism possessing many advantages for developmental studies, can be utilized to study the biological functions of these genes and the related epigenetic mechanisms during early development. To this end, we have performed a genome-wide survey of zebrafish SET domain genes. 58 genes total have been identified. Although gene duplication events give rise to several lineage-specific paralogs, clear reciprocal orthologous relationship reveals high conservation between zebrafish and human SET domain genes. These data were further subject to an evolutionary analysis ranginq from yeast to human, leading to the identification of putative clusters of orthologous groups (COGs) of this gene family. By means of whole-mount mRNA in situ hybridization strategy, we have also carried out a developmental expression mapping of these genes. A group of maternal SET domain genes, which are implicated in the programming of histone modification states in early development, have been identified and predicted to be responsible for all known sites of SET domain-mediated histone methylation. Furthermore, some genes show specific expression patterns in certain tissues at certain stages, suggesting the involvement of epigenetic mechanisms in the development of these systems. These results provide a global view of zebrafish SET domain histone methyltransferases in evolutionary and developmental dimensions and pave the way for using zebrafish to systematically study the roles of these genes during development.
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