In The Field

At SDB 2008: the same, but different

Most have abandoned Haeckel’s old chestnut that ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny, but when two organisms actually appear to have identical embryonic development, how close are the genetic programs that underlie each. In a wide ranging symposium on evolutionary genetics at the Society for Developmental Biology 67th annual meeting, Itai Yanai from Craig Hunter’s lab at Harvard looked at two nematode worms that are practically indistinguishable, the lab workhorse Caenorhabditis elegans and Caenorhabditis briggsae from which it diverged some 80 to 100 million years ago. Evolutionarily, that puts them about as distant as humans and mice, but morphologically they’re practically indistinguishable. So, what can Yanai say about how these organisms use those different genes during what he calls the “200 most exciting minutes in the life of the worm”? 

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