Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute

Chris Lowe

Hopkins Marine Station

Early evolutionary origins of the vertebrate head



Wednesday — December 1, 2010
Pacific Forum — 3:00 p.m.

Much of what we understand about the evolution of the vertebrate head has been derived from classical morphological studies on the diversity of living chordates, both complex and simple, and their early fossil record. The closest phyla to chordates have generally thought to have morphological structures that are too divergent to be informative as an a comparative out group to reconstruct the early evolution of chordates, and the innovations that lead to the emergence of the vertebrate head. Recent research in molecular genetics has identified much of the developmental program responsible for setting up the vertebrate head. Our work suggests that hemichordates, which are closely related to chordates, but with their own unique morphologies, possess almost all the early genetic program that was thought to have evolved in association with the complex structural innovations of the vertebrate head. We explore the implications of this work for our understanding of morphological evolution and why sampling animal diversity is key to understanding the early evolutionary origins of animal form and function. 


Next: TBD