Accounting for Vertebrate Limbs: From Owen's Homology to Novelty in Evo-Devo

Philosophy and Theory in Biology 1 (20130604):e004 (2009)
Abstract
This article reviews the recent reissuing of Richard Owen’s On the Nature of Limbs and its three novel, introductory essays. These essays make Owen’s 1849 text very accessible by discussing the historical context of his work and explaining how Owen’s ideas relate to his larger intellectual framework. In addition to the ways in which the essays point to Owen’s relevance for contemporary biology, I discuss how Owen’s unity of type theory and his homology claims about fins and limbs compare with modern views. While the phenomena studied by Owen are nowadays of major interest to evolutionary developmental biology, research in evo devo has largely shifted from homology (which was Owen’s concern) towards evolutionary novelty, e.g., accounting for fins as a novelty. Still, I argue that questions about homology are important and raise challenges even for explanations of novelty.
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