The International Journal of Developmental Biology

Int. J. Dev. Biol. 47: 491 - 495 (2003)

Vol 47, Issue 7-8

Special Issue: Evolution & Development

Evo-Devo: evolutionary developmental mechanisms

Published: 1 December 2003

Brian K Hall

Department of Biology, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.


Evolutionary developmental biology (Evo-Devo) as a discipline is concerned, among other things, with discovering and understanding the role of changes in developmental mechanisms in the evolutionary origin of aspects of the phenotype. In a very real sense, Evo-Devo opens the black box between genotype and phenotype, or more properly, phenotypes as multiple life history stages arise in many organisms from a single genotype. Changes in the timing or positioning of an aspect of development in a descendant relative to an ancestor (heterochrony and heterotopy) were two evolutionary developmental mechanisms identified by Ernst Haeckel in the 1870s. Many more have since been identified, in large part because of our enhanced understanding of development and because new mechanisms emerge as development proceeds: the transfer from maternal to zygotic genomic control; cell-to-cell interactions; cell differentiation and cell migration; embryonic inductions; functional interactions at the tissue and organ levels; growth. Within these emergent processes, gene networks and gene cascades (genetic modules) link the genotype with morphogenetic units (cellular modules, namely germ layers, embryonic fields or cellular condensations), while epigenetic processes such as embryonic inductions, tissue interactions and functional integration, link morphogenetic units to the phenotype. Evolutionary developmental mechanisms also include interactions between individuals of the same species, individuals of different species, and species and their biotic and/or abiotic environment. Such interactions link ecological communities. Importantly, there is little to distinguish the causality that underlies these interactions from that which underlies inductive interactions within embryos.

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