EVO-DEVO THE NEW SCIENCE OF EVOLUTIONARY DEVELOPMENTAL BIOLOGY
The repetition of body parts, such as the segments and appendages of arthropods or the vertebrae in vertebrates compose the construction of animals. It is during evolution that certain body parts diverge morphologically and/or functionally, forming claws, fingers, wings and so forth. The decoding of the genetic mechanisms that control these divergences is at the heart of what it means to study Evolutionary Developmental Biology. At the forefront of this young science is molecular biologist Sean Carroll.
Professor of Molecular Biology, Genetics, and Medical Genetics at the University of Wisconsin- Madison, Carroll is also a principal investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. He studies how new animal forms have evolved by looking at animal life 600-700 million years ago.
Evo-devo is considered the third stage in understanding evolution: First came Darwin and then DNA. In this third wave of knowledge, Carroll has unearthed evidence of an ancient worm-like ancestor to most of the world’s animals. This ancestor had "master" genes to control morphological growth of legs, arms, claws, fins and antennas, which are similar to the genes of humans to vertebrates, insects and fish. The difference arises in how the genes are expressed. This expression results in certain animals developing wings while other grow claws or feet.
"We found the same mechanism in all the divisions of the animal kingdom. The architecture varies tremendously but the genetic instructions are the same and have been preserved for a very long period of time," Carroll says on his lab Web site.
Carroll is also studying how genes control the development and evolution of animal morphology using the common fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, as a model system. His work has led to molecular mechanism models on how animal patterns and diversity evolve, whether it is a peacock’s tail or the stripes on a zebra.
Carroll has published more than 75 articles and is the author of three books. His most recent book is The Making of the Fittest: DNA and the Ultimate Forensic Record of Evolution (2006). In a US News & World Report review of his second book, Endless Forms Most Beautiful: The New Science of Evo Devo (2005), Carroll was described as revealing "a remarkable series of insights into how evolution has shaped--and continues to shape--the wondrous assortment of creatures that share this planet with us. He emerges as the new, user-friendly, public face of evolutionary science."
Carroll is a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He was the recipient of the Presidential Young Investigator Award for the National Science Foundation and also won the Milwaukee Foundation’s Shaw Scientist Award. In 1994, Time magazine named Carroll as one of "50 Future Leaders 40 and Under."
A native of Ohio, Carroll received B.A. from Washington University in St. Louis and his Ph. D. in Immunology from Tufts University School of Medicine.