Kowalevsky, Comparative Evolutionary Embryology, and the Intellectual Lineage of Evo-Devo

Rudolf A. Raff, Alan C. Love

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


Alexander Kowalevsky was one of the most significant 19th century biologists working at the intersection of evolution and embryology. The reinstatement of the Alexander Kowalevsky Medal by the St. Petersburg Society of Naturalists for outstanding contributions to understanding evolutionary relationships in the animal kingdom, evolutionary developmental biology, and comparative zoology is timely now that Evo-devo has emerged as a major research discipline in contemporary biology. Consideration of the intellectual lineage of comparative evolutionary embryology explicitly forces a reconsideration of some current conceptions of the modern emergence of Evo-devo, which has tended to exist in the shadow of experimental embryology throughout the 20th century, especially with respect to the recent success of developmental biology and developmental genetics. In particular we advocate a sharper distinction between the heritage of problems and the heritage of tools for contemporary Evo-devo. We provide brief overviews of the work of N. J. Berrill and D. T. Anderson to illustrate comparative evolutionary embryology in the 20th century, which provides an appropriate contextualization for a conceptual review of our research on the sea urchin genus Heliocidaris over the past two decades. We conclude that keeping research questions rather than experimental capabilities at the forefront of Evo-devo may be an antidote to any repeat of the stagnation experienced by the first group of evolutionary developmental biologists over one hundred years ago and acknowledges Kowalevsky's legacy in evolutionary embryology.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)19-34
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Experimental Zoology Part B: Molecular and Developmental Evolution
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 15 2004
Externally publishedYes


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