Book: Homology, Genes, and Evolutionary Innovation

YaleNews features works recently or soon to be published by members of the University community. Descriptions are based on material provided by the publishers. Authors of new books may forward publishers’ book descriptions to us by email.

YaleNews features works recently or soon to be published by members of the University community. Descriptions are based on material provided by the publishers. Authors of new books may forward publishers’ book descriptions to us by email.

Homology, Genes, and Evolutionary Innovation


Günter P. Wagner, the Alison Richard Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

(Princeton University Press)

Homology — a similar trait shared by different species and derived from common ancestry, such as a seal’s fin and a bird’s wing— is one of the most fundamental yet challenging concepts in evolutionary biology. This book provides the first mechanistically based theory of what homology is and how it arises in evolution.

Günter Wagner argues that homology, or character identity, can be explained through the historical continuity of character identity networks — that is, the gene regulatory networks that enable differential gene expression. He shows how character identity is independent of the form and function of the character itself because the same network can activate different effector genes and thus control the development of different shapes, sizes, and qualities of the character. Demonstrating how this theoretical model can provide a foundation for understanding the evolutionary origin of novel characters, Wagner applies it to the origin and evolution of specific systems, such as cell types; skin, hair, and feathers; limbs and digits; and flowers.

The first major synthesis of homology to be published in decades, “Homology, Genes, and Evolutionary Innovation” reveals how a mechanistically based theory can serve as a unifying concept for any branch of science concerned with the structure and development of organisms, and how it can help explain major transitions in evolution and broad patterns of biological diversity.

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