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Trends Genet. 2013 Dec;29(12):712-22. doi: 10.1016/j.tig.2013.09.004. Epub 2013 Oct 8.

von Baer's law for the ages: lost and found principles of developmental evolution.

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Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University, 16 Divinity Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA. Electronic address:


In 1828, Karl Ernst von Baer formulated a series of empirically defined rules, which became widely known as the 'Law of Development' or 'von Baer's law of embryology'. This was one the most significant attempts to define the principles that connected morphological complexity and embryonic development. Understanding this relation is central to both evolutionary biology and developmental genetics. Von Baer's ideas have been both a source of inspiration to generations of biologists and a target of continuous criticism over many years. With advances in multiple fields, including paleontology, cladistics, phylogenetics, genomics, and cell and developmental biology, it is now possible to examine carefully the significance of von Baer's law and its predictions. In this review, I argue that, 185 years after von Baer's law was first formulated, its main concepts after proper refurbishing remain surprisingly relevant in revealing the fundamentals of the evolution-development connection, and suggest that their explanation should become the focus of renewed research.


Karl Ernst von Baer; evolution; evolutionary developmental biology; morphological complexity; parallelism; recapitulation

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