Evolution of Development and tree of life workshop report graphic


Table of Contents

Workshop supported by

NSF grant IBN 0096346

Evolution of Development meets Tree Of Life

What are the most exciting questions in the Evolution of Development?

Which resources are necessary to address the key questions about the Evolution of Development?

How does the community exploit these increased resources for functional analyses needed to address the major questions in Evo-Devo?







Michael Donoghue,
Scott Gilbert,
Vivian Irish,
Thomas Kaufmann,
Thomas Kocker,
Leonard Krishtalka,
Meredith Lane,
Michael Levine,
William McGinnis,
Michael Puruggana ,
Neelima Sinha,
Gregory Wray


Judith Plesset,

Susan Singer


Evolution of Development meets Tree of Life

What happens when the Evolution of Developmental Mechanisms (Evo-Devo) and Tree of Life (ToL) communities come together? Members of both these fields met at the National Science Foundation on September 14, 2000. The agenda focused on new opportunities presented by research advances in genomics and the interactions these techniques could catalyze between the two communities.

There was remarkable agreement that both communities were constrained by the same major needs, and that the elimination of these constraints would lead to remarkably fruitful and exciting interactions between evolutionary developmental biology and evolutionary systematics. The two groups also agreed that the NSF could facilitate these interactions in a manner that would benefit numerous areas of biology. Further, the participants shared a sense of excitement and urgency that after millennia of thought about fundamental biological questions, the tools are now at hand to experimentally address them. Communities long separated technically and conceptually have converged on a common set of evolutionary questions. The participants felt that after decades of separation we must exploit the powerful synergism presented by this convergence.

While the main research emphasis at this workshop was the Evolution of Development, close attention was paid, by both communities, to points of intersection and synergy. The ToL community is primarily interested in the shape of the Tree of Life, while the Evo-Devo people are primarily concerned with the mechanisms that have shaped that tree. Recommendations were made on how these communities could most effectively work together. Three recent conceptual generalizations in developmental biology have allowed the re-emergence of Evo-Devo and renewed excitement in developmental approaches to phylogeny. First, the genes directing the development of all metazoan organisms are strikingly similar (i.e., A common set of genetic tools drives development throughout the extant organisms). Second, this core set of genes (gene families) represents a rather limited set of players. Third, changes in gene expression can cause dramatic changes in animal and plant form. Participants quickly reached consensus on the most exciting questions in Evo-Devo and identified the tools and resources needed for an effective attack on these questions. A definition of the infrastructure that would be most valuable to both communities was elucidated. This report elaborates the vision of the participants in terms of both the questions and recommendations for implementing research to address these questions. The major proposal consists of three genome-enabled components:

  • The generation of arrayed BAC and cDNA libraries from organisms across the Tree of Life.
  • The extension of molecular techniques to non-model organisms.
  • The development of a phyloinformatics infrastructure that is easily accessibleand flexible enough to answer questions from any area of the biological community.

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Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this report (including the proposed timetable) are those of the participants, and do not necessarily represent the official views, opinions, or policy of the National Science Foundation.