The evolution of morphological novelty

Published on September 29, 2008 Reviewed on May 31, 2018   56 min

A selection of talks on Genetics & Epigenetics

Hello, my name is Nipam Patel and I'm a professor at the University of California at Berkeley. I'm going to speak today about the evolution of morphological novelty.
This slide just shows a little bit of the incredible diversity that we see in animals around us today. Scientists have long been fascinated in how this diversity has come about through evolution, and I'm going to talk today a little bit about our understanding nowadays about how some of this diversity has come to be.
Scientists have understood that this diversity comes about both at the level within populations, so on the left, for example, you see a group of butterflies. These butterflies are actually all of the same species, but they show incredible diversity at a morphological level, in this case, in their coloring, and on the right you see diversity at a larger distance between species. We see a leech, an elephant, a bird and a millipede and again this illustrates the incredible diversity that we have in organisms.
What we've come to understand is that if we examine the molecular and genetic details of development, that is, how embryos go from an individual fertilized egg into the final adult organism, then we can understand development in enough detail to begin to ask how developmental changes actually generate new morphologies, and this is an exciting field in science.
In this slide we see a single egg on the left hand side and all eggs of most animals look very similar, but of course, differences in how they develop lead to incredible differences in the final organism that results, so here we see an elephant, a human and a butterfly. So how is it that this comes about? This has been a question now that we've been addressing in a variety of labs in a variety of ways.