Formand Functionin Developmental Evolution by MANFRED D. LAUBICHLER, JANE MAIENSCHEIN


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This emphasis on form had its own difficulties, however. Without a better mechanistic understanding of development, many questions about the identity of embryological structures could not be decided, and this lack of clear evidential criteria was also the main reason why the program of evolutionary morphology failed (Laubichler 2003; Nyhart 1995; Nyhart 2002). Modern Evo Devo, on the other hand, does provide empirically verifiable hypotheses about the role of developmental mechanisms in evolutionary change, as well as a mechanistic explanation of homology.

One immediate consequence of the various genomics projects has been the recognition that there are fewer genetic differences between different species (such as Drosophila and human) than originally thought. These results imply that phenotypic differences and phenotypic evolution are more the result of changes in the expression patterns of genes than they are of novel genes. These findings undermined any simple causal model of phenotypic evolution that connects novel phenotypic characters with new genes.

Many of these proposals were attempts to fill the void left by the eclipse of Darwinism (Bowler 1983). Around 1900, many biologists had become dissatisfied with natural selection as the main mechanism of organic evolution. Instead, they argued that additional “internal” forces are needed to understand the specific patterns of phenotypic evolution. Some of these proposals focused on the problem of inheritance, suggesting various mechanisms of how the environment could influence the hereditary material; others emphasized the apparently directed patterns of phenotypic transformations (especially within the fossil record) and argued that the action of internal mechanisms are required to explain such orthogenetic series.

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