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Where is, in 2017, the evo in evo-devo (evolutionary developmental biology)?

Feb 1, 2018

After the inaugural Pan-American-Evo-Devo meeting (2015, Berkeley), I showed how major concerns about evo-devo (Evolutionary Developmental Biology) research were demonstrated by a simple, non-biased quantitative analysis of the titles/abstracts of that meeting's talks. Here, I apply the same methodology to the titles/abstracts of the recent Pan-American-Evo-Devo meeting (2017, Calgary). The aim is to evaluate if the concerns raised by me in that paper and by other authors have been addressed and/or if there are other types of differences between the two meetings that may reflect trends within the field of evo-devo. This analysis shows that the proportion of presentations referring to “morphology”, “organism”, “selection”, “adaptive”, “phylogeny”, and their derivatives was higher in the 2017 meeting, which therefore had a more “organismal” feel. However, there was a decrease in the use of “evolution”/its derivatives and of macroevolutionary terms related to the tempo and mode of evolution in the 2017 meeting. Moreover, the disproportionately high use of genetic/genomic terms clearly shows that evo-devo continues to be mainly focused on devo, and particularly on “Geno”, that is, on molecular/genetic studies. Furthermore, the vast majority of animal evo-devo studies are focused only on hard tissues, which are just a small fraction of the whole organism—for example, only 15% of the tissue mass of the human body. The lack of an integrative approach is also evidenced by the lack of studies addressing conceptual/long-standing broader questions, including the links between ecology and particularly behavior and developmental/evolutionary variability and between evo-devo and evolutionary medicine.

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