Gavin de Beer (1899–1972)

  • Yawen ZouEmail author
Living reference work entry

Latest version View entry history


Gavin de Beer (1899–1972) was an evolutionary embryologist considered by many as a forerunner of modern evolutionary developmental biology (evo-devo). This entry discusses de Beer’s works with a special focus on his contributions to evo-devo. De Beer was trained in zoology and later became interested in comparative and evolutionary embryology. De Beer joined the attack on Ernst Haeckel’s biogenetic law and argued that ontogeny did not recapitulate phylogeny, but ontogeny caused phylogeny instead. Influenced by the advancements of the Modern Synthesis and the rise of genetics, de Beer advocated for the integration of embryology, heredity, and evolution and emphasized on the importance of embryology in evolutionary theory in many of his writings. Although de Beer failed to make a significant impact on the Modern Synthesis, his work on heterochrony influenced modern evo-devo biologists such as Stephen Jay Gould, and his views on homology are still revisited today.


Gavin de Beer Evo-devo Biogenetic law Heterochrony Homology 



I am grateful to Manfred Laubichler and Federica Colonna for their encouragement and comments on early drafts of this essay. Comments by the editors Laura Nuño de la Rosa and Daniel J. Nicholson helped to improve this article significantly.


  1. De Beer GR (1926) The comparative anatomy, histology, and development of the pituitary body. Oliver & Boyd, EdinburghGoogle Scholar
  2. De Beer GR (1930a) Embryology and evolution. Clarendon Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  3. De Beer GR (1930b) Early travellers in the Alps. Sidgwick & Jackson, LondonGoogle Scholar
  4. De Beer GR (1932) Alps and men. Edward Arnold, LondonGoogle Scholar
  5. De Beer GR (1938) Embryology and evolution. In: de Beer GR (ed) Evolution: essays on aspects of evolutionary biology. Clarendon Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  6. De Beer GR (1940) Embryos and ancestors, 1st edn. Clarendon Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  7. De Beer GR (1946) Edwin Stephen Goodrich. J Anat 80(2):112–113PubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  8. De Beer GR (1947) Edwin Stephen Goodrich. 1868–1946. Obituary Notices Fellows Royal Soc 5:477–490CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. De Beer GR (1963) Charles Darwin: evolution by natural selection. T. Nelson, London/New YorkGoogle Scholar
  10. De Beer GR (1964) Atlas of evolution. Thomas Nelson and Sons, CamdenGoogle Scholar
  11. De Beer GR (1966) Genetics: the centre of science. Proc R Soc Lond B Biol Sci 995:154–166CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. De Beer GR (1971) Homology, an unsolved problem. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  13. De Beer GR (1972) Jean-Jacques Rousseau and his world. Thames and Hudson, LondonGoogle Scholar


  1. Baguñà J, Fernandez JG (2003) Evo-devo: the long and winding road. Int J Dev Biol 47(7/8):705–716PubMedGoogle Scholar
  2. Barrington EJW (1973) Gavin Rylands de Beer.1899-1972. Biogr Mem Fellows R Soc 19:65–93CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Brigandt I (2006) Homology and heterochrony: the evolutionary embryologist Gavin Rylands de Beer (1899–1972). J Exp Zool B Mol Dev Evol 306(4):317–328CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Churchill FB (1980) The modern evolutionary synthesis and the biogenetic law. In: Mayr E, Provine WB (eds) The evolutionary synthesis: perspectives on the unification of biology, 1st edn. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, pp 112–122Google Scholar
  5. Gerson EM (2007) The juncture of evolutionary and developmental biology. In: Maienschein J, Laublicher M (eds) From embryology to evo-devo. The MIT Press, Cambridge, pp 435–463Google Scholar
  6. Goldschmidt RB (1923) Mechanism and physiology of sex determination (trans: Dakin W). Methuen & Co, LondonGoogle Scholar
  7. Goodrich ES (1945) Memoir: the study of Nephridia and genital ducts since 1895. Q J Microsc Sci 2(343):303–392Google Scholar
  8. Gould SJ (1977) Ontogeny and phylogeny, 1st edn. Harvard University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  9. Gould SJ (1992) Heterochrony. In: Keller EF, Lloyd EA (eds) Keywords in evolutionary biology. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, pp 158–165Google Scholar
  10. Haeckel E (1866) Generelle morphologie der organismen, 1st edn. Druck Und Verlag Von Georg Remer, BerlinCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Haeckel E (1905) The evolution of man, 5th edn. Watts, LondonGoogle Scholar
  12. Hall BK (2000) Balfour, Garstang and de Beer: the first century of evolutionary embryology. Am Zool 40(4):718–728Google Scholar
  13. Hall BK (2003) Evo-devo: evolutionary developmental mechanisms. Int J Dev Biol 47(7/8):491–496PubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. Horder TJ (2006) Gavin Rylands de Beer: how embryology foreshadowed the dilemmas of the genome. Nat Rev Genet 7(11):892–898CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. Huxley JS (1942) Evolution, the modern synthesis. George Allen & Unwin, LondonGoogle Scholar
  16. Huxley JS, de Beer GR (1934) The elements of experimental embryology. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  17. Laubichler MD (2000) Homology in development and the development of the homology concept. Am Zool 40(5):777–788Google Scholar
  18. Love AC, Raff RA (2003) Knowing your ancestors: themes in the history of evo-devo. Evol Dev 5(4):327–330CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. McKinney ML, McNamara KJ (1991) Heterochrony. Springer US, New YorkCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Morgan TH (1934) Embryology and genetics. Columbia University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  21. Raff RA (1996) The shape of life: genes, development, and the evolution of animal form. University of Chicago Press, ChicagoGoogle Scholar
  22. Richmond ML (2007) The cell as the basis for heredity, development, and evolution: Richard Goldschmidt’s program of physiological genetics. In: Maienschein J, Laublicher M (eds) From embryology to evo-devo: a history of developmental evolution. The MIT Press, Cambridge, pp 169–211Google Scholar
  23. Wourms JP (2007) The relations between comparative embryology, morphology, and systematics: an American perspective. In: Maienschein J, Laublicher M (eds) From embryology to evo-devo: a history of developmental evolution. The MIT Press, Cambridge, pp 215–266Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Center for Biology and SocietyArizona State UniversityTempeUSA
  2. 2.The Chinese University of Hong KongShenzhenP. R. China

Section editors and affiliations

  • Daniel Nicholson
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Sociology, Philosophy and AnthropologyUniversity of ExeterExeterUK

Personalised recommendations