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Changing While Staying the Same: Preservation of Structural Continuity During Limb Evolution by Developmental Integration.


More than 150 years since Charles Darwin published "On the Origin of Species", gradual evolution by natural selection is still not fully reconciled with the apparent sudden appearance of complex structures, such as the bat wing, with highly derived functions. This is in part because developmental genetics has not yet identified the number and types of mutations that accumulated to drive complex morphological evolution. Here, we consider the experimental manipulations in laboratory model systems that suggest tissue interdependence and mechanical responsiveness during limb development conceptually reduce the genetic complexity required to reshape the structure as a whole. It is an exciting time in the field of evolutionary developmental biology as emerging technical approaches in a variety of non-traditional laboratory species are on the verge of filling the gaps between theory and evidence to resolve this sesquicentennial debate.

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