Posted by: Dan | November 13, 2008

The Bricks and Mortar of Life

PZ Myers waxes poetic in The Mason’s Apprentice:

Much of modern developmental biology has a bias for grand visions of form and structure. Our major model organisms are creatures like fruit flies and mice and zebrafish, but these are the elaborate edifices of evolution, far out on the extreme edge of multicellular complexity. While it is both interesting and productive to study the grand patterns of development in producing such wonderful phenomena as the outline of the body plan in the expression of Hox genes, or the growth of limbs, or the functional anatomy and physiology of intricate sensory organs like the eye, these processes all hinge on the most fundamental pieces of ontogeny: the mechanisms by which cells can adhere, interact, and cooperate. These are the nails and glue of the development and evolution of multicellular organisms. And, just as Brunelleschi’s greatest achievement began not with a grand plan, but with expert knowledge of the simple brick, we can better understand those processes if we look away from the mice and turn our eyes to simpler, humbler creatures, ones that have mastered the crucial skills of cellular masonry.


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