The International Journal of Developmental Biology

Int. J. Dev. Biol. 47: 613 - 621 (2003)

Vol 47, Issue 7-8

Special Issue: Evolution & Development

Time's arrow: heterochrony and the evolution of development

Published: 1 December 2003

Kathleen K Smith

Department of Biology, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina 27708, USA.


The concept of heterochrony, which denotes a change in the relative timing of developmental events and processes in evolution, has accompanied attempts to link evolution and development for well over a century. During this time the definition of heterochrony and the application of the concept have varied and by the late 1990's, many questioned the usefulness of the concept. However, in the past decade studies of heterochrony have been revitalized by a new focus on developmental sequence, an examination of heterochrony in explicit phylogenetic contexts and increasing tendencies to examine the heterochrony of many kinds of events, including cellular, molecular and genetic events. Examples of such studies are reviewed in this paper and it is argued that this new application of heterochrony provides an extraordinarily rich opportunity for understanding the developmental basis of evolutionary change.

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