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Open Access Open Badges Review

What is a segment?

Roberta L Hannibal12 and Nipam H Patel1*

Author Affiliations

1 Departments of Molecular and Cell Biology and Integrative Biology, University of California, 519A LSA #3200, Berkeley, CA 94720-3200, USA

2 Present Address: Department of Genetics, Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, CA 94305, USA

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EvoDevo 2013, 4:35  doi:10.1186/2041-9139-4-35

Published: 17 December 2013


Animals have been described as segmented for more than 2,000 years, yet a precise definition of segmentation remains elusive. Here we give the history of the definition of segmentation, followed by a discussion on current controversies in defining a segment. While there is a general consensus that segmentation involves the repetition of units along the anterior-posterior (a-p) axis, long-running debates exist over whether a segment can be composed of only one tissue layer, whether the most anterior region of the arthropod head is considered segmented, and whether and how the vertebrate head is segmented. Additionally, we discuss whether a segment can be composed of a single cell in a column of cells, or a single row of cells within a grid of cells. We suggest that ‘segmentation’ be used in its more general sense, the repetition of units with a-p polarity along the a-p axis, to prevent artificial classification of animals. We further suggest that this general definition be combined with an exact description of what is being studied, as well as a clearly stated hypothesis concerning the specific nature of the potential homology of structures. These suggestions should facilitate dialogue among scientists who study vastly differing segmental structures.

Evolution; Metamere; Pseudosegment; Segmentation