Reframing research on evolutionary novelty and co-option: Character identity mechanisms versus deep homology

James DiFrisco, Günter P. Wagner, Alan C. Love

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


A central topic in research at the intersection of development and evolution is the origin of novel traits. Despite progress on understanding how developmental mechanisms underlie patterns of diversity in the history of life, the problem of novelty continues to challenge researchers. Here we argue that research on evolutionary novelty and the closely associated phenomenon of co-option can be reframed fruitfully by: (1) specifying a conceptual model of mechanisms that underwrite character identity, (2) providing a richer and more empirically precise notion of co-option that goes beyond common appeals to “deep homology”, and (3) attending to the nature of experimental interventions that can determine whether and how the co-option of identity mechanisms can help to explain novel character origins. This reframing has the potential to channel future investigation to make substantive progress on the problem of evolutionary novelty. To illustrate this potential, we apply our reframing to two case studies: treehopper helmets and beetle horns.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalSeminars in Cell and Developmental Biology
StateAccepted/In press - 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
JD is supported by the Research Foundation – Flanders ( FWO ), Grant Number 88559 . ACL and GPW are supported by a John Templeton Foundation (JTF) Grant Number 61329 . The opinions expressed in this paper are those of the authors and not those of the JTF.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 The Authors


  • Beetle horns
  • Character identity
  • Co-option
  • Deep homology
  • Mechanisms
  • Novelty
  • Treehopper helmets

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Review


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