Character identity mechanisms: a conceptual model for comparative-mechanistic biology

Abstract

There have been repeated attempts in the history of comparative biology to provide a mechanistic account of morphological homology. However, it is well-established that homologues can develop from diverse sets of developmental causes, appearing not to share any core causal architecture that underwrites character identity. We address this challenge with a new conceptual model of Character Identity Mechanisms (ChIMs). ChIMs are cohesive mechanisms with a recognizable causal profile that allows them to be traced through evolution as homologues despite having a diverse etiological organization. Our model hypothesizes that anatomical units at different levels of organization—cell types, tissues, and organs—have level-specific ChIMs with different conserved parts, activities, and organization. Relying on a methodology of conceptual engineering, we show how the ChIM concept advances our understanding of the developmental basis of morphological characters, while forging an important link between comparative and mechanistic biology.

Journal details

Volume 35
Issue number 4
Pages 44
Available online
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