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Dev Biol. 2003 Dec 1;264(1):15-37.

The evolution of developmental mechanisms.

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  • 1Max-Planck Institut für Entwicklungsbiologie, Abteilung Evolutionsbiologie, Spemannstrasse 37-39, D-72076 Tübingen, Germany.


Over the past two to three decades, developmental biology has demonstrated that all multicellular organisms in the animal kingdom share many of the same molecular building blocks and many of the same regulatory genetic pathways. Yet we still do not understand how the various organisms use these molecules and pathways to assume all the forms we know today. Evolutionary developmental biology tackles this problem by comparing the development of one organism to another and comparing the genes involved and gene functions to understand what makes one organism different from another. In this review, we revisit a set of seven concepts defined by Lewis Wolpert (fate maps, asymmetric division, induction, competence, positional information, determination, and lateral inhibition) that describe the characters of many developmental systems and supplement them with three additional concepts (developmental genomics, genetic redundancy, and genetic networks). We will discuss examples of comparative developmental studies where these concepts have guided observations on the advent of a developmental novelty. Finally, we identify a set of evolutionary frameworks, such as developmental constraints, cooption, duplication, parallel and convergent evolution, and homoplasy, to adequately describe the evolutionary properties of developmental systems.

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