The molecular and genetic basis for the evolution of anatomical diversity is a major question that has inspired evolutionary and developmental biologists for decades. Because morphology takes form during development, a true comprehension of how anatomical structures evolve requires an understanding of the evolutionary events that alter developmental genetic programs. Vast gene regulatory networks (GRNs) that connect transcription factors to their target regulatory sequences control gene expression in time and space and therefore determine the tissue-specific genetic programs that shape morphological structures. In recent years, many new examples have greatly advanced our understanding of the genetic alterations that modify GRNs to generate newly evolved morphologies. Here, we review several aspects of GRN evolution, including their deep preservation, their mechanisms of alteration, and how they originate to generate novel developmental programs.
Keywords: anatomical novelty; gene regulation; gene regulatory network; morphological evolution.