'Evo-devo' biology tackles evolutionary history's unanswered questions

02/09/04

The recent marriage of evolutionary biology with developmental biology has resulted in the birth of a new field, evolutionary developmental biology, or "evo-devo." Evo-devo scientists study the mechanisms that produce evolutionary changes in body plans over time. As one of the field's creators, Indiana University Bloomington biologist Rudolf Raff brings new understanding to the evolution of humans and other organisms by uniting fossil data and information about the genes that control development.

Major historical questions about the origin of multicellular animals, the Cambrian radiation and the origins of animal larvae can now be addressed using evo-devo's mechanistic tools. Last month, the National Academy of Sciences chose Raff as the winner of its 2003 Elliott Medal for his role in founding evo-devo. Raff and IUB colleagues Loren Rieseberg, Thomas Kaufman, Michael Lynch and Jeffrey Palmer lead the largest concentration of evo-devo biologists in the nation.

In a presentation at the meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science titled "The Quick and the Dead: Developmental Genetics Meets Extinct Organisms," Raff will discuss how evo-devo will expand our understanding of the fossil record. He will show how and why some complex features in animal development may have evolved much more quickly than expected.

Source: Eurekalert & others

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