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[Academic Script]

Embryological Evidence for Evolution

Subject: Zoology

Course: B.Sc. 2nd Year

Paper No. & Title: Z-204B

Evolution & Behaviour

Topic No. & Title: C.3

Embryological Evidence for

Lecture Title: Embryological Evidence for

Academic Script

1. Introduction
Evolution means an unfolding or unrolling –a gradual, orderly
change from one condition to another. The circumstantial proof is
the only evidence to support organic evolution for occurrence of
varied forms of plants and animals on this earth. The study of one
type of evidence of evolution is called embryology, the study of
embryos. Embryos of many different kinds of animals: mammals,
birds, reptiles, fish, etc. look very similar and it is often difficult to
tell them apart. Many traits of one type of animal appear in the
embryo of another type of animal. For example, fish embryos and
human embryos both have gill slits. In fish they develop into gills,
but in humans they disappear before birth. This shows that the
animals are similar and that they develop similarly, implying that
they are related, have common ancestors and that they started
out the same, gradually evolving different traits, but that the basic
plan for a creature's beginning remains the same.

2. Evidences from embryology

The embryology is the study of the development of an individual
organism from its beginning from egg to attainment of adult
structure. The individual development is called ontogeny, and the
ancestral history of the species is called phylogeny. In nineteenth
century Von Bear, Darwin, Ernst Haeckel postulates remarkable
theories about the patterns of development. Haeckel formulated
the ‘Recapitulation Theory’ or ‘Biogenetic law’. It says “Ontogeny
recapitulates phylogeny”. Ontogeny is the life history of the
individual starting from the ovum and phylogeny is the sequence
of adult ancestors, which must have incurred in the evolution of
the group of this individual. It means an individual during its
development repeats the most important changes, which its
ancestors have undergone during the long and slow course for
their evolution.

3. The homologies were traced at the following stages

1. Homology in early embryonic development
2. Homology in the embryos
3. Recapitulations
4. Retrogressive metamorphosis
5. Neoteny

1. Homology in early embryonic development

All the multicellular organisms exhibit a common pattern of
development. Their development starts from a unicellular fertilized
egg or zygote. The fertilized egg after repeated cell divisions forms
blastula, which finally developed in to a two-layered gastrula. The
cells which compose the embryo in the cleavage stage and
blastoderm stage and even the gastrula stage are apparently all
similar .The development after gastrula stage becomes modified in
different groups of animal. From the gastrula stage onward
development include three main things;
1. The gradual differentiation of the cells into various kinds to form
various animal tissues.
2. The arrangement and grouping of their tissues into organs and
body parts.
3. Finally, the development of these organs and the body parts, in
special conditions, characteristics of the species of animals to
which the developing individual becomes.
Example-The Volvox is a colonial algae in which the differentiated
cells are arranged in the form of the hollow ball. The fertilized egg
divides to form two, redividing to form four, then 8 and so on. In
Hydra whose body consists of two layers of cells, its fertilized egg
divides just as the Volvox egg did. Eventually, a hollow ball of cells
differentiate and produce a new generation of Volvox and Hydra
accordingly but it is noted that blastula and gastrula stages are
typically of the embryonic pattern of higher animal.

2. Homology in the embryos

The early embryos in all the vertebrates are very similar and it is
not easy to differentiate a human embryo from the embryo of
chick, lizard, frog or fish in early stages. These similarities in the
embryonic stages of different vertebrate groups are:
1. Similar form and structures, like presence of gill clefts,
notochord, tail and rudiments of eyes and ears.
2. Similarity in the replacement of notochord by vertebral
3. Similarity in the development of limbs in the tetrapod
4. Embryos of closely related vertebrates resemble more and for
a longer period.

1) The study of above figure reveals the great similarity of early
embryonic stages of all the forms. In the figure the embryos in the
first horizontal row are so similar and difficult to identify. In
second row it is observed that there is more similarity between
fish and salamander embryos even in the third row their
similarities are quite remarkable. Thus, the early embryos of all
individuals are much alike, latter those of different classes become
remarkable and still latter family and species characters become
evident i.e., the embryos during their development become
progressively more and more different from the embryos of other
animals. The common pattern of development or resemblances in
the embryos of different groups could be explained as having been
inherited from an ancestor common to all.

2) Another example of evidence from embryology of a common

ancestry is seen in the larvae of annelids and molluscs. The adult
of these phyla bear no resemblance to each other.
3) The adults and the nauplius larvae of Sacculina, a parasite on
crabs, and of Cyclops, a common crustacean are illustrated.
Sacculina, which is nothing but a bag of tissue attached to a crab,
bears no resemblance to its host. But both are classified under the
crustacean because the larva of Sacculina is anatomically similar
to the larva of other crustaceans such as Cyclops.

3. Recapitulation Theory
The development of man can be taken as an example to illustrate
the theory of recapitulation .The fertilized egg may be compared
to the single-celled ancestor of all the animals and the blastula to
a colonial protozoan, which might have been the ancestor of all
the Metazoa. Gastrula represents the coelenterate ancestor and
the embryo with the development of mesoderm represents
triploblastic stage like a flatworm.
The early human embryo with a dorsal hollow nerve cord, a well
developed notochord and a series of gill-slits represents the
fundamental chordate characters. With the development of a
piscine heart, paired arotic arches, primitive pronephros and a tail
it resembles a fish embryo. Later on, it resembles reptilian
embryo, and finally develops mammalian characteristics. During
the seven month of intrauterine development the human embryo
resembles a baby ape, being completely covered with hair and
having proportionately longer forelimbs. It means embryonic
development (ontogeny) in man recapitulates the history of
(phylogeny) the race. This provides support to recapitulation
Other examples of recapitulation are
1) Presence of fish-like characters like gills, gill-slits, tail, tail fin and
lateral-line sense organs in tadpole larvae of frog.
2) Presence of flagellated sperm and water dependency for
fertilization in animals.

Von Baer’s principles of embryonic differentiation constitute a

better guide to embryological evidence for evolution. These
principles are as follows:
1) General characteristics appear in the development early and
specialized characters latter on.
2) From the more general, the less general and finally the specialized
characters appear.
3) An animal during development departs progressively from the
form of other animals
4) Young stages of an animal do not resemble with adults of different
groups but they resemble with their embryos.

4. Retrogressive Metamorphosis
The ascidian tadpole is free swimming and possesses all the three
chordate characters. On metamorphosis, it changes into sedentary
degenerated adult. During metamorphosis, it losses all the
chordate features . This is called retrogressive metamorphosis.
Larva has helped in determining chordate nature of Ascidians.
5. Neoteny

In some animals (e.g., axolotl larva of Ambystoma), the larvae

fails to undergo metamorphosis. It develops gonads, attains
sexual maturity and starts reproduction .This is called neoteny or
paedogenesis. Retention of primitive or larval features by adults
provides evidence in favor of evolution.

4. Summary
In this topic we have discussed the circumstantial proof of
evidence which support organic evolution for occurrence of varied
forms of plants and animals on this earth. Among all evidences we
discussed embryological evidences. In this part, we have talked
about; homology in early embryonic development, homology in
the embryos, recapitulations and retrogressive metamorphosis
followed by neoteny with suitable examples are explained. Based
on embryological evidences in evolution, less mutation occurs
during early stages, hence they appear similar but during latter
stages these mutations increase. Hence they differ greatly like
fish, reptile and human etc.