The Development of the Tetrapod Limb: Embryological Mechanisms and Evolutionary Possibilities

  • Julian Lewis
  • Nigel Holder
Part of the NATO Advanced Study Institutes Series book series (NSSB, volume 14)


Professor Delsol (in this volume) has cogently defended Haeckel’s approach to the relationship between embryogenesis and evolution, and has developed from it a new and more systematic analysis. That analysis nevertheless still bears the stamp of Haeckel’s times. For while it is learned in the descriptive anatomy of embryos, and ingenious in the application of evolutionary principles, it treats the mechanisms of embryonic development as an almost impenetrable mystery. We would not go so far as Oppenheimer (1955), who expresses her horror at Haeckel’s influence thus: “The seduction of embryology by a fanatic who expressed himself even metaphorically in terms of magic represents a darker chapter in its history than any of its earlier or later retreats to mere metaphysics lacking such taint of the mystic.” But it does seem to us that one can now go beyond Haeckel, and beyond de Beer too, and pursue the analysis in terms of specific developmental mechanisms and their evolution. We can begin, on the one hand, to see how the pattern of the body arises from the rules of cell behaviour in the embryo; and, on the other hand, to see how those rules of cell behaviour may be defined by the genome that lies within each cell (Wolpert and Lewis, 1975). The nature of this understanding, and its implications for the evolution of vertebrates, can be illustrated by an account of the development of a tetrapod limb.


Limb Development Apical Ectodermal Ridge United Kingdom Introduction Polarize Tissue Gene Control System 
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Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1977

Authors and Affiliations

  • Julian Lewis
    • 1
  • Nigel Holder
    • 1
  1. 1.Dept. of Biology as Applied to MedicineThe Middlesex Hospital Medical SchoolLondonUK

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