Paul M. Brakefield and his research team in Leiden, the Netherlands, examined the development, plasticity, and evolution of butterfly eyespot patterns, and published their findings in Nature in 1996. Eyespots are eye-shaped color patterns that appear on the wings of some butterflies and birds as well as on the skin of some fish and reptiles. In butterflies, such as the peacock butterfly Aglais, the eyespots resemble the eyes of birds and help butterflies deter potential predators. Brakefield's research team described the stages through which eyespots develop, identified the genes and environmental signals that affect eye-spot appearance in some species, and demonstrated that small genetic variations can change butterfly eyespot color and shape. The research focused on a few butterfly species, but it contributed to more general claims of how the environment may affect the development of coloration and how specific color patterns may have evolved.

In 1969, Roy J. Britten and Eric H. Davidson published Gene Regulation for Higher Cells: A Theory, in Science. A Theory proposes a minimal model of gene regulation, in which various types of genes interact to control the differentiation of cells through differential gene expression. Britten worked at the Carnegie Institute of Washington in Washington, D.C., while Davidson worked at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California. Their paper was an early theoretical and mechanistic description of gene regulation in higher organisms.

Paul Kammerer conducted experiments on amphibians and marine animals at the Vivarium, a research institute in Vienna, Austria, in the early twentieth century. Kammerer bred organisms in captivity, and he induced them to develop particular adaptations, which Kammerer claimed the organismss offspring would inherit. Kammerer argued that his results demonstrated the inheritance of acquired characteristics, or Lamarckian inheritance. The Lamarckian theory of inheritance posits that individuals transmit acquired traits to their offspring. Kammerer worked during a period in which scientists debated how variation between organisms and within species was caused, and how organisms could inherit that variation from their parents. Kammerer contended that the inheritance of acquired characteristics occurs during embryological development, but several scientists argued that he provided poor evidence for his claims.

In the early twentieth century, Paul Kammerer conducted a series of experiments to demonstrate that organisms could transmit characteristics acquired in their lifetimes to their offspring. In his 1809 publication, zoologist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck had hypothesized that living beings can inherit features their parents or ancestors acquired throughout life. By breeding salamanders, as well as frogs and other organisms, Kammerer tested Lamarck's hypothesis in an attempt to provide evidence for Lamarck's theory of the inheritance of acquired characteristics. In particular, Kammerer argued that the inheritance of acquired characteristics caused species to evolve, and he claimed that his results provided an explanation for evolutionary processes through developmental phenomena.

In 2002 Eric Davidson and his research team published 'A Genomic Regulatory Network for Development' in Science. The authors present the first experimental verification and systemic description of a gene regulatory network. This publication represents the culmination of greater than thirty years of work on gene regulation that began in 1969 with 'A Gene Regulatory Network for Development: A Theory' by Roy Britten and Davidson. The modeling of a large number of interactions in a gene network had not been achieved before. Furthermore, this model revealed behaviors of the gene networks that could only be observed at the levels of biological organization above that of the gene.

In "Behavioral Thermoregulation by Turtle Embryos," published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in April, 2011, Wei-Guo Du, Bo Zhao, Ye Chen, and Richard Shine report that turtle embryos can move towards warmer temperatures within the egg when presented with a small, 0.8 degrees Celsius gradient. This behavioral thermoregulation may benefit the embryo's fitness by accelerating the rate of development enough to decrease the incubation period by up to four and a half days. Embryos are generally thought to have little control over their surroundings. This study revealed that embryos may be able to control their developmental environment by modifying their behavior.

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