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Cell. 2008 Jul 11;134(1):25-36. doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2008.06.030.

Evo-devo and an expanding evolutionary synthesis: a genetic theory of morphological evolution.

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Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Laboratory of Molecular Biology, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI 53706, USA.


Biologists have long sought to understand which genes and what kinds of changes in their sequences are responsible for the evolution of morphological diversity. Here, I outline eight principles derived from molecular and evolutionary developmental biology and review recent studies of species divergence that have led to a genetic theory of morphological evolution, which states that (1) form evolves largely by altering the expression of functionally conserved proteins, and (2) such changes largely occur through mutations in the cis-regulatory sequences of pleiotropic developmental regulatory loci and of the target genes within the vast networks they control.

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