But I digress.
What, I hear you cry, is 'Evo Devo'? The term is short for 'Evolutionary Developmental Biology' and it's a science that's waited, ooh, since the early nineteenth century to come into it own.
People of cleverness (the term 'scientist' hadn't been invented) have long wondered about the relationship between development - the course an individual organism takes between egg and embryo and adult - and the grander over-arching evolutionary history of the species to which it belongs. The people who really went to town with this idea were the 'Nature Philosophers', a group of romantics mainly from Germany, and at the turn of the nineteenth century, largely associated with that great polymath Goethe. Now, Goethe's literary effusions are such that he has been referred to as 'The German Shakespeare' but the comparison is hardly fair - after all, the Bard didn't invent the idea of morphology; come up with a theory of colour which, in the importance attached to the observer, presages quantum mechanics, if only poetically; and lay the groundwork for the evo-devo we see today.
The Nature Philosophers felt that the course an embryo follows represents the history of the group to which it belonged, a a kind of record whereby that species would engage in its own striving towards perfection. Yes, it's a lot of waffle, but if the Nature Philosophers had their heads in the clouds (nuages still inhabited by that Goethean offshoot, Rudolf Steiner's Anthroposophists), they had their feet firmly
Despite the noöspheric phooey, the Nature Philosophers were keen observers, and their intellectual descendants pioneered many techniques in dissection, staining and microscopy - all good, solid, investigative stuff. The Nature Philosophers looked at the big questions of the study of form, and tried to devise experiments to answer them.
The impact of Darwinism on this movement was, for a long time, little more than that of a damp lettuce leaf on the hide of a charging rhino. All evolutionary biologists could do was make rather vague and vacuous statements about how various embryological (and thus evolutionary) transformations might or might not have been influenced by selection. This vagueness so infuriated two young biologists, William Bateson and Thomas Hunt Morgan, to such a pitch that they threw over Darwinism in favour of designing experiments to get at the sources of the genetic variation that Darwin could not address. It was Bateson who coined the term 'genetics'. Morgan, on the other hand, with his students, pioneered the use of the fruit fly as a model organism and, through a series of careful experiments, discovered that the units of heredity had physical form, as loci that existed on chromosomes. Bateson went to his grave a pronounced anti-Darwinist; Morgan was only dragged into Darwinism by his students, notably Theodosius Dobzhansky, who managed to fuse the variation he saw in the lab with that he knew as a field naturalist, and has as good a claim as any as being a founder of the 'neo-Darwinian synthesis' we know today.
From the embryologists, rooted in Goethean nature philosophy, we have a comprehensive knowledge of the embryologies of many organisms and how these relate to evolution.
From the geneticists, we got - eventually - techniques to sequence whole genomes and manipulate genes to study the effects of their loss.
The two together have given us evo-devo - a science that uses new techniques of genetics and genomics to answer age-old questions of shape and form in organisms.
Well, that's enough for now, cos I is crackered... I might write more about this in a day or two when I feel better.
The only photo I took in Paris, by way of digressive amusement, was this.