Meeting Abstract

25-4  Thursday, Jan. 5 14:15 - 14:30  Evolution of the Animal Face: from Principles to Mechanisms. ABZHANOV, ARKHAT; Imperial College London and Natural History Museum

Understanding the origins of animal diversity is one of the chief challenges to the modern biological sciences. We aim to reveal molecular mechanisms underlying evolutionary processes that generate morphological variation, and to show how particular changes in embryonic development can produce morphological alterations for natural selection to act upon. The principal focus for our studies is on the animal face and head. Cranial diversity in vertebrates is a particularly inviting and challenging research topic as animal heads and faces show many dramatic, unique and adaptive features which reflect their natural history. Most of the facial diversity depends on the shapes and sizes of the bones and cartilages that make up the cranial skeleton. I will describe how our investigations of craniofacial skeletal development in amniote animals are helping us to uncover mechanisms that generated cranial diversity during evolution. In particular, we employ a synergistic combination of morphometrics techniques, comparative molecular embryology and functional experimentation methods to trace cranial evolution in birds and mammals, some of the most charismatic groups on our planet.