Forms of Becoming: The Evolutionary Biology of Development

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Princeton University Press, 2009 - Science - 228 pages
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What comes first, form or function? Trumpeted as the future of biological science, evolutionary developmental biology (or "evo-devo") answers this fundamental question by showing how evolution controls the development of organisms. In Forms of Becoming, Alessandro Minelli, a leading international figure in the field, takes an in-depth and comprehensive look at the history and key issues of evo-devo. Spirited and insightful, this book focuses on the innovative ways animal organisms evolve through competition and cooperation.

Minelli provides a complete overview of conceptual developments--from the fierce nineteenth-century debates between the French biologists Geoffroy and Cuvier, who fought over questions of form versus function--to modern theories of how genes dictate body formation. The book's wide-ranging topics include expression patterns of genes, developmental bias, the role of developmental genes, and genetic determinism. Drawing from diverse examples, such as the anatomy of butterflies, giraffes, Siamese twins, and corals, Minelli extends and reformulates important concepts from development, evolution, and the interplay between the two.

Presenting the accessible and cutting-edge ideas of evolutionary developmental biology, Forms of Becoming is fascinating reading for anyone interested in genetics and the animal form.


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‘Forms of Becoming’ is an interesting read for anyone pursuing the questions concerning the multiplicity of forms of living organisms. Clear and neatly organised from the word go, it picks up for a lay reader where textbooks of evolutionary biology leaves us. With examples from the generic crayfish to explaining the non-existence of even segments on invertebrates, giraffe necks and fingers on hands, it moves swiftly into the historical elements of genes, mutations and the scientific problems the early semantics of such terms posed. Minelli argues quite expertly, it is our understanding and improvements in technology and collaborative research from a variety of different fields, that has enabled us to see that it takes more than the simple regulation of cellular proliferation to give rise to a seven-millimetre fish or to a thirty metre whale.
What is handsome about Minelli’s writing is his little quirky dips into almost philosophical musings, juxtaposed with some remarkably sharp line of questioning, “Is there a precise border between possible and impossible butterflies? Are there butterflies that I could draw on paper but will certainly never find in nature?” The case for the need for an ever-changing context and applications of the different fields of biology and their research paradigms in the understanding of evolution is one of the core arguments of this book. Biologists from a variety of different fields will find some interesting and perhaps fresh avenues to concur with and some even more interesting concepts and theories to discuss and explore. Certainly, the ambiguity in defining adulthood for example draws from very rich, diverse set of organisms. This in-depth and abundant sprinkling of examples makes this book unique from the ones already on the shelves.


Unity in Diversity
Easy Numbers Forbidden Numbers
Privileged Genes
Evolution and Development
The Logic of Development
Paradigm Shifts
Chapters Comparisons
The Bodys Syntax
Competition or Cooperation?
Making and Remaking
Innovations without Plans
Recommended Readings

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About the author (2009)

Alessandro Minelli is professor of zoology at the University of Padua in Italy. He is the author of The Development of Animal Form and the coeditor of Evolving Pathways: Key Themes in Evolutionary Developmental Biology.

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