In the NYRB, a review of three new Evo Devo books:
Despite much recent controversy about the theory of evolution, major changes in our understanding of evolution over the past twenty years have gone virtually unnoticed. At the heart of Darwin’s theory of evolution is an explanation of how plants and animals evolved from earlier forms of life that have long since disappeared; but his theory says nothing about the factors that determine the shape, color, and size of a particular fish, whale, or butterfly. Darwin and his contemporaries realized that understanding the evolution of animal forms and understanding how a fertilized egg develops into a whale, cow, or human being must be deeply connected; but they didn’t know how to make the connection.
Surprising discoveries in the 1980s have begun to tell us how an embryo develops into a mature animal, and these discoveries have radically altered our views of evolution and of the relation of human beings to all other animals. The new field of study in which these breakthroughs have been made is called Evo Devo, short for evolution and development, “development” referring to both how an embryo grows and how the newborn infant matures into an adult.