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The emerging conceptual framework of evolutionary developmental biology


Over the last twenty years, there has been rapid growth of a new approach to understanding the evolution of organismic form. This evolutionary developmental biology, or ‘evo-devo’, is focused on the developmental genetic machinery that lies behind embryological phenotypes, which were all that could be studied in the past. Are there any general concepts emerging from this new approach, and if so, how do they impact on the conceptual structure of traditional evolutionary biology? In providing answers to these questions, this review assesses whether evo-devo is merely filling in some missing details, or whether it will cause a large-scale change in our thinking about the evolutionary process.

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Figure 1: The recapitulatory aspect of the evolution of development in lineages that exhibit increasing phenotypic complexity.
Figure 2: Conservation and change in a developmental mechanism.


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I thank P. Ahlberg and A. Panchen for comments on the manuscript; J. Blackburn, A. Cherrill and P. Griffin for photographs; P. Giblin for production of the typescript; and the Natural Environment Research Council for financial support for my current research.

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Arthur, W. The emerging conceptual framework of evolutionary developmental biology. Nature 415, 757–764 (2002).

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