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Annu Rev Cell Dev Biol. 2015;31:453-71. doi: 10.1146/annurev-cellbio-102314-112451.

Toward a synthesis of developmental biology with evolutionary theory and ecology.

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Department for Evolutionary Biology, Max-Planck Institute for Developmental Biology, 72076 Tübingen, Germany; email:


The evolutionary conservation of developmental mechanisms is a truism in biology, but few attempts have been made to integrate development with evolutionary theory and ecology. To work toward such a synthesis, we summarize studies in the nematode model Pristionchus pacificus, focusing on the development of the dauer, a stress-resistant, alternative larval stage. Integrative approaches combining molecular and genetic principles of development with natural variation and ecological studies in wild populations have identified a key role for a developmental switch mechanism in dauer development and evolution, one that involves the nuclear hormone receptor DAF-12. DAF-12 is a crucial regulator and convergence point for different signaling inputs, and its function is conserved among free-living and parasitic nematodes. Furthermore, DAF-12 is the target of regulatory loops that rely on novel or fast-evolving components to control the intraspecific competition of dauer larvae. We propose developmental switches as paradigms for understanding the integration of development, evolution, and ecology at the molecular level.


Caenorhabditis elegans; Pristionchus pacificus; dauer development; evo-devo; nuclear hormone receptors

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