The evolution of development is still a young area of evolutionary biology, but it's already extremely important. Understanding the interaction between evolution and development can help scientists figure out the following:
i How specific developmental processes affect the outcome of natural selection. When researchers know how processes work, they can understand the kinds of changes expected to result from random mutations.
1 How the developmental process itself evolves. The genes that are responsible for determining body pattern, called the Hox genes (see the later section "Genes Responsible for Development: Hox Genes"), are slightly different from one class of organism to another. Hox genes of mammals differ from the Hox genes of insects, indicating that the machinery itself is evolving.
i How the great diversity of animals on Earth could have evolved from a common ancestor. DNA sequence data has allowed researchers to refine the picture of the tree of life and the details of the branching process, but DNA sequence information by itself does not explain how so many varied body plans can have arisen from a common ancestor. Knowledge of developmental controls, as well as laboratory experiments showing how small changes in developmental genes result in large changes in animal body plan (think multi-headed jellyfish), are giving scientists this understanding.
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