Starting from fins: parallelism in the evolution of limbs and genitalia. The fin-to-limb transition

Evol Dev. Sep-Oct 2002;4(5):375-7. doi: 10.1046/j.1525-142x.2002.02024.x.


The March/April 2002 issue of Evolution and Development focused on three presentations made at the Starting from Fins: Parallelism in the Evolution of Limbs and Genitalia symposium held as part of the 2001 Chicago meeting of the Society of Integrative and Comparative Biology. The intention of the symposium and the publication of the presentations was to extend discussion of the potential and the limits of using serial homologues to understand developmental aspects of morphological evolution. The March/April 2002 issue concentrated on unpaired fin to genitalia transitions. This issue focuses on paired fins to limbs and highlights the need for developmental data to be integrated with data from fossil materal, phylogenetic analysis, and explicitly comparative studies. Coates et al. use phylogenetic methods to explore the limb/fin characters of taxa, but their analysis departs somewhat from the usual in that the reference group for organisms includes sister group taxa not usually considered true tetrapods. They state that including finned taxa from the stem group permits an attempt to distinguish the primitive condition of the characteristics demonstrated by the crown group, that is, "limbed tetrapods." In focusing on limb characters specifically and including aspects of the appendicular girdles, Coates et al. highlight morphological details and trends within a given phylogeny. They also demonstrate the degree of relevance of limb characters during the establishment of lineages and their branching patterns by using only limb characters to generate a tree and use a direct comparison of serial versus special homologies to explore the degree of evolutionary parallelism between fore-and hindlimbs. The preliminary conclusions indicate a high level of independence between the serially homologous fore-and hindlimb. Innes et al. present outcomes from the use of cutting edge molecular genetic approaches to understand developmental aspects of limb morphology. In a manner conceptually similar to Coates et al.'s use of fossil characters, Innes et al. use the serial analysis of gene expression to sort differences from similarities in the gene expression profiles of fore-and hindlimbs of the same embryos. Although these gene expression pattems are likely to reflect the serial homology of the paired limbs, they are silent in terms of our understanding both the profound and subtle differences between fore- and hindlimbs in any given species. Innes et al. point out the volume of data generated by SAGE far exceeds our ability to interpret its biological meaning. The studies presented here and in the March/April issue are excellent examples of the need to interpret complex data in light of collective knowledge of evolutionary history. We hope the insights gained from the symposium and papers contribute to a dialogue on how to integrate different approaches and assist in moving forward the field of Evolution and Development.

Publication types

  • Comment
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Extremities / growth & development*
  • Fishes / genetics
  • Fishes / growth & development
  • Genitalia / growth & development*