An article in today’s New York Times gives a good overview of evo-devo, a cross-disciplinary field that has been gaining ground lately. Evo-devo (short for evolutionary developmental biology) studies the relationship between embryological development and evolution at the gene level. Reporter Carol Kaesuk Yoon explains that “evo-devo researchers are finding that the evolution of complex new forms, rather than requiring many new mutations or many new genes as had long been thought, can instead be accomplished by a much simpler process requiring no more than tweaks to already existing genes and developmental plans. Stranger still, researchers are finding that the genes that can be tweaked to create new shapes and body parts are surprisingly few. The same DNA sequences are turning out to be the spark inciting one evolutionary flowering after another.” She goes on to quote Dr. Scott F. Gilbert, a developmental biologist at Swarthmore College and a contributor to the MIT Press book From Embryology to Evo-Devo: A History of Developmental Evolution edited by Manfred Laubichler and Jane Maienschein, who explains, “that classical evolutionary theory looks at survival of the fittest… evo-devo looks at the arrival of the fittest.”
Read the entire New York Times article here. Read a few sample chapters of From Embryology to Evo-Devo: A History of Developmental Evolution edited by Manfred Laubichler and Jane Maienschein here.