A focus on evolution
and development for UCMP

by David R. Lindberg, Director
Scanning electron micrograph of hatching Erginus apicina embryo.
Just as Theodosius Dobzhansky stated that “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution,” that is certainly the case in paleontology. Though defined as the study of ancient life, paleontology is much more. It is the unraveling of every aspect of the history of that life — its evolution and development, the relationships within that history, the interactions between organisms and their environments, the interactions among organisms, the big events and the little ones that comprise the history of life on Earth, and its possibility elsewhere.
Recently, graduate student John Hutchinson gave an excellent seminar on the origin of birds’ legs. In his introduction, he was asked to describe himself and his work. This was his only stumbling block. Was he a paleontologist? An evolutionary biologist? A functional morphologist? Perhaps more accurately, all of the above.
This is indicative that paleontology at UCMP is no longer just the study of ancient life. Increasingly we look at UCMP as a center for studying evolution, and by default, development.
  Evolution, as reflected in our great collections, is largely the modification of those developmental pathways that were present in common ancestors and that produced all descendant morphologies that we see through time. Developmental studies form a significant area of research in UCMP. These include the Hickman Lab’s study of the formation and metamorphosis of larval shells in gastropods, the Clemens Lab’s interest in tooth formation, and the Padian Lab’s work on ontogeny and bone formation in dinosaurs and birds. In other curators’ labs and Museum Scientists’ research programs, additional developmental and ontogenetic studies are ongoing, and this new emphasis is becoming readily apparent in our teaching and educational outreach as well.
In the next issues of UCMP News, we will focus on the new work going on in the labs of the faculty curators of UCMP. We begin with this issue and a look at the Lindberg Lab or LindLab whose theme is Evolution-Development-Ecology (see “The LindLab”) We also share with you our efforts in bringing that focus on evolution and development to a broader audience with the completion of our most recent short course, Tracking the Course of Evolution and a preview of a National Conference on the Teaching of Evolution to be held here at Berkeley next fall.

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May, 2000