Deconstructing the long-standing a priori assumption that serial homology generally involves ancestral similarity followed by anatomical divergence

Aug 1, 2020

It has long been assumed that serial homologues are ancestrally similar-polysomerism resulting from a "duplication" or "repetition" of forms-and then often diverge-anisomerism, for example, as they become adapted to perform different tasks as is the case with the forelimb and hind limbs of humans. However, such an assumption, with crucial implications for comparative, evolutionary, and developmental biology, and for evolutionary developmental biology, has in general not really been tested by a broad analysis of the available empirical data. Perhaps not surprisingly, more recent anatomical comparisons, as well as molecular knowledge of how, for example, serial appendicular structures are patterned along with different anteroposterior regions of the body axis of bilateral animals, and how "homologous" patterning domains do not necessarily mark "homologous" morphological domains, are putting in question this paradigm. In fact, apart from showing that many so-called "serial homologues" might not be similar at all, recent works have shown that in at least some cases some "serial" structures are indeed more similar to each other in derived taxa than in phylogenetically more ancestral ones, as pointed out by authors such as Owen. In this article, we are taking a step back to question whether such assumptions are actually correct at all, in the first place. In particular, we review other cases of so-called "serial homologues" such as insect wings, arthropod walking appendages, Dipteran thoracic bristles, and the vertebrae, ribs, teeth, myomeres, feathers, and hairs of chordate animals. We show that: (a) there are almost never cases of true ancestral similarity; (b) in evolution, such structures-for example, vertebra-and/or their subparts-for example, "transverse processes"-many times display trends toward less similarity while in many others display trends toward more similarity, that is, one cannot say that there is a clear, overall trend to anisomerism.