EvoDevo - A new science
What is EvoDevo?
Evolutionary Development is a branch of biology in which researchers look at the sequence and style of an organism's embryonic or early development. That information helps us understand how that organism is related to others and how new forms of life emerge.
EvoDevo shows that new structures can emerge from existing gene sequences.
An important concept is modularity. For instance, the Distal-less gene works the same across species. When activated, it says "build a limb here." There can be variations, with a spider having eight activations and a human have one pair of activations for arms and another for legs. When it is present, but not activated, we see a creature with no limbs, such as a snake. We want to know what modules there are and how and why they are activated and are repeated.
Despite tremendous diversity in form, living things are surprisingly similar on the genetic level. We are learning that when a gene is activated or silenced can have profound effects on the individual or upon a species.
Epigenetics is the study of changes in gene expression. The DNA sequence stays the same, but something (often an environmental trigger) makes a section of the DNA 'read' or 'not read'. Once there is a change in "which directions to read", the organism can change. There are occasions where that change can then be passed on to offspring.
Over five hundred years ago, John Donne wrote, "No man is an island, entire of itself." We are learning, more and more, that our lives are intertwined with each other and with our environment. Every day we are deciding what we and our descendants will become.