Stuart A Newman
Articles written in Journal of Biosciences
Volume 17 Issue 3 September 1992 pp 193-215
Early embryos of metazoan species are subject to the same set of physical forces and interactions as any small parcels of semi-solid material, living or nonliving. It is proposed that such “generic” properties of embryonic tissues have played a major role in the evolution of biological form and pattern by providing an array of morphological templates, during the early stages of metazoan phylogeny, upon which natural selection could act. The generic physical mechanisms considered include sedimentation, diffusion, and reaction-diffusion coupling, all of which can give rise to chemical nonuniformities (including periodic patterns) in eggs and small multicellular aggregates, and differential adhesion, which can lead to the formation of boundaries of non-mixing between adjacent cell populations. Generic mechanisms that produce chemical patterns, acting in concern with the capacity of cells to modulate their adhesivity (presumed to be a primitive, defining property of metazoa), could lead to multilayered gastrulae of various types, segmental organization, and many of the other distinguishing characteristics of extant and extinct metazoan body plans. Similar generic mechanisms, acting on small tissue primordia during and subsequent to the establishment of the major body plans, could have given rise to the forms of organs, such as the vertebrate limbs. Generic physical processes acting on a single system of cells and cell products can often produce a widely divergent set of morphological phenotypes, and these are proposed to be the raw material of the evolution of form. The establishment of any ecologically successful form by these mechanisms will be followed, under this hypothesis, by a period of genetic evolution, in which the recruitment of gene products to produce the “generically templated” morphologies by redundant pathways would be favoured by intense selection, leading to extensive genetic change with little impact on the fossil record. In this view, the stabilizing and reinforcing functions of natural selection are more important than its ability to effect incremental change in morphology. Aspects of evolution which are problematic from the standard neo-Darwinian viewpoint, or not considered within that framework, but which follow in a straightforward fashion from the view presented here, include the beginnings of an understanding of why organisms have the structure and appearance they’ do, why homoplasy (the recurrent evolution of certain forms) is so prevalent, why evolution has the tempo and mode it does (“punctuated equilibrium”), and why a “rapid” burst of morphological evolution occurred so soon after the origin of the metazoa.
Volume 27 Issue 5 September 2002 pp 448-449 Commentary
Volume 30 Issue 1 February 2005 pp 1-2
Volume 30 Issue 1 February 2005 pp 75-85
The reliable dependence of many features of contemporary organisms on changes in gene content and activity is tied to the processes of Mendelian inheritance and Darwinian evolution. With regard to morphological characters, however, Mendelian inheritance is the exception rather than the rule, and neo-Darwinian mechanisms in any case do not account for the origination (as opposed to the inherited variation) of such characters. It is proposed, therefore, that multicellular organisms passed through a pre-Mendelian, pre-Darwinian phase, whereby cells, genes and gene products constituted complex systems with context-dependent, self-organizing morphogenetic capabilities. An example is provided of a plausible ’core’ mechanism for the development of the vertebrate limb that is both inherently pattern forming and morphogenetically plastic. It is suggested that most complex multicellular structures originated from such systems. The notion that genes are privileged determinants of biological characters can only be sustained by neglecting questions of evolutionary origination and the evolution of developmental mechanisms.
Volume 32 Issue 6 September 2007 pp 1041-1043
Volume 34 Issue 2 June 2009 pp 163-166
Volume 34 Issue 4 October 2009 pp 493-494
Volume 34 Issue 4 October 2009 pp 553-572 Articles
Ancient metazoan organisms arose from unicellular eukaryotes that had billions of years of genetic evolution behind them. The transcription factor networks present in single-celled ancestors at the origin of the Metazoa (multicellular animals) were already capable of mediating the switching of the unicellular phenotype among alternative states of gene activity in response to environmental conditions. Cell differentiation, therefore, had its roots in phenotypic plasticity, with the ancient regulatory proteins acquiring new targets over time and evolving into the ``developmental transcription factors” (DTFs) of the ``developmental-genetic toolkit.” In contrast, the emergence of pattern formation and morphogenesis in the Metazoa had a different trajectory. Aggregation of unicellular metazoan ancestors changed the organisms’ spatial scale, leading to the first ``dynamical patterning module” (DPM): cell-cell adhesion. Following this, other DPMs (defined as physical forces and processes pertinent to the scale of the aggregates mobilized by a set of toolkit gene products distinct from the DTFs), transformed simple cell aggregates into hollow, multilayered, segmented, differentiated and additional complex structures, with minimal evolution of constituent genes. Like cell differentiation, therefore, metazoan morphologies also originated from plastic responses of cells and tissues. Here we describe examples of DTFs and most of the important DPMs, discussing their complementary roles in the evolution of developmental mechanisms. We also provide recently characterized examples of DTFs in cell type switching and DPMs in morphogenesis of avian limb bud mesenchyme, an embryo-derived tissue that retains a high degree of developmental plasticity.
Volume 39 Issue 2 April 2014 pp 171-176
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