International Society for History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Biology

twitter 2015
     facebook 2015


MONDAY, JULY 6  /  11:00 - 12:30  /  DS-R510
Organized session / diverse format
Book Symposium: Günter Wagner’s Homology, Genes, and Evolutionary Innovation (2014)

Valerie Racine (Arizona State University, United States)


Gunter Wagner (Yale University, United States)
Ehab Abouheif (McGill University, Canada)
Douglas H. Erwin (Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, United States)
Manfred Laubichler (Arizona State University, United States)
Valerie Racine (Arizona State University, United States)

We propose an “author meets critics” session on Günter Wagner’s recently published book, Homology, Genes, and Evolutionary Innovation. Wagner’s book is the product of two decades of work in developmental evolution. His goal is to provide a conceptual framework to study the evolution of developmental types, such as homologies, body plans, and cell types, and to explain the historical continuity of characters, or character identity, as well as the observed variation of these characters, or character states. He argues that this class of phenomena has not, and cannot, be accounted for within an evolutionary theory founded on population genetics. Instead, he proposes that this class of phenomena can be explained by appeal to character identity networks (ChINs). ChINs are networks of regulatory genes that generate homologous morphological traits. Wagner’s ChIN concept is not a definition of homology, but a concept designed to help organize an empirical research agenda that attempts to provide mechanistic explanations of both the evolution of homologous types and the origin of evolutionary novelties.

Wagner’s work raises many conceptual questions that will be of interest to philosophers, historians, and biologists. How can the ChIN concept explain the stability and historical continuity, as well as the variational modalities, of homology? How does it compare to other accounts of homology? Can it provide mechanistic explanations of homology and the origins of evolutionary innovation? Can the ChIN concept contribute to the development of a quantification and measurement theory in phenotypic evolution? We hope that this session will provoke discussions around these questions and other issues in developmental evolution.