Evo-Devo aspects of classical and molecular data in a historical perspective
We discuss the interplay between evolution and development as reflected in data and concepts since about 1800. Darwin and his “continental apostle” Haeckel put the striking similarity between early vertebrate embryos in an evolutionary context. Haeckel's partly illicit generalizations discredited evolutionary thinking among early experimental embryologists who moreover noted riddles incompatible with contemporary concepts of homology and evolution. Relevant solutions were suggested by the more recent concept of ontogenetic networks that embody complex regulatory properties and genes with partly overlapping functions. Molecular data on development increasingly reveal evolutionary opportunism, for instance when a widespread signaling chain involved in primitive immune defense was apparently recruited later on for dorso-ventral axis determination in some evolutionarily advanced insect groups. Recently, Rickettsia-related bacteria colonizing many arthropod species were found to “manipulate” the first steps of host development to the advantage of their own propagation, but by ways that could also promote host speciation. Molecular genetics can now document evolutionary steps in ontogenetic networks. In the fruit fly for instance, the novel bicoid gene has superseded a crucial patterning function within a pre-existing network—a case of “molecular caenogenesis.” The expression patterns of conserved genes that antagonistically determine dorso-ventral polarity support a literal revolution envisioned almost 200 years ago. This is the dorso-ventral inversion of the body plan in some metazoans—ascribed then to the Articulata, now to the Chordata. The final section posits that the opportunistic character of evolutionary innovations is detrimental to parsimony in development. J. Exp. Zool. (Mol. Dev. Evol.) 302B:69–91, 2004. © 2004 Wiley-Liss, Inc.