Articles written in Journal of Biosciences
Volume 36 Issue 4 September 2011 pp 575-585 Brief communication
A controversy of relevance to the study of biological form involves the concept of adaptation. This controversy is illustrated by the structure and function of the human hand. A review of the principal definitions of adaptation points to two main problems: (1) they are qualitative and make reference to the whole structure (or substructural feature) and (2) they are based on the idea of natural selection as a moulding factor. The first problem would be solved by a definition that encompasses quantitative measures of the effects of selection, drawing on new advances in the comparative method. The second problem is deeper and presents greater conceptual difficulties. I will argue that the idea of natural selection as a moulding factor depends on the notion of a genetic program for development. But regarding the hand, experimental evidence on limb development challenges the idea of a genetic program for skeletal pattern formation, undermining a simple application of standard adaptationist concepts. These considerations lead to a revised definition of adaptation and interpretation of the evolutionary determinants of the hand’s form.
Volume 39 Issue 2 April 2014 pp 211-223 Articles
The standard model of evolutionary change of form, deriving from Darwin’s theory via the Modern Synthesis, assumes a gradualistic reshaping of anatomical structures, with major changes only occurring by many cycles of natural selection for marginal adaptive advantage. This model, with its assertion that a single mechanism underlies both micro- and macroevolutionary change, contains an implicit notion of development which is only applicable in some cases. Here we compare the embryological processes that shape the vertebrate limb bud, the mammalian tooth and the avian beak. The implied notion of development in the standard evolutionary picture is met only in the case of the vertebrate limb, a single-primordium organ with morphostatic shaping, in which cells rearrange in response to signalling centres which are essentially unchanged by cell movement. In the case of the tooth, a single-primordium organ with morphodynamic shaping in which the strengths and relationships between signalling centres is influenced by the cell and tissue movements they induce, and the beak, in which the final form is influenced by the collision and rearrangement of multiple tissue primordia, abrupt appearance of qualitatively different forms (i.e. morphological novelties) can occur with small changes in system parameters induced by a genetic change, or by an environmental factor whose effects can be subsequently canalized genetically. Bringing developmental mechanisms and, specifically, the material properties of tissues as excitable media into the evolutionary picture, demonstrates that gradualistic change for incremental adaptive advantage is only one of the possible modes of morphological evolution.
Volume 48, 2023
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