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The onset of lymphocyte development in the vertebrate primordial thymus, about 500 million years ago, represents one of the foundational events of the emerging adaptive immune system. Here, we retrace the evolutionary trajectory of thymopoiesis, from early vertebrates to mammals, guided by members of the Foxn1/4 transcription factor gene family, which direct the differentiation of the thymic microenvironment. Molecular engineering in transgenic mice recapitulated a gene duplication event, exondoi:10.1126/sciadv.abd9585 pmid:33246964 fatcat:vkiiqlmpo5ha3nacfdpasppovy