A developmental perspective of homology and evolutionary novelty

Curr Top Dev Biol. 2021;141:1-38. doi: 10.1016/bs.ctdb.2020.12.001. Epub 2021 Feb 10.


The development and evolution of multicellular body plans is complex. Many distinct organs and body parts must be reproduced at each generation, and those that are traceable over long time scales are considered homologous. Among the most pressing and least understood phenomena in evolutionary biology is the mode by which new homologs, or "novelties" are introduced to the body plan and whether the developmental changes associated with such evolution deserve special treatment. In this chapter, we address the concepts of homology and evolutionary novelty through the lens of development. We present a series of case studies, within insects and vertebrates, from which we propose a developmental model of multicellular organ identity. With this model in hand, we make predictions regarding the developmental evolution of body plans and highlight the need for more integrative analysis of developing systems.

Keywords: Body plan; Character identity; Character state; Homology; Innovation; Novelty.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Crustacea / anatomy & histology
  • Developmental Biology
  • Gene Regulatory Networks*
  • Genes, Homeobox
  • Genitalia, Male / physiology
  • Homeodomain Proteins / genetics
  • Insecta
  • Male
  • Pelvis
  • Phylogeny
  • Transcription Factors / genetics
  • Vertebrates / anatomy & histology*
  • Wings, Animal* / anatomy & histology


  • Homeodomain Proteins
  • Transcription Factors
  • distal-less protein, insect