What is Evo Devo? 

Evo Devo (Evolutionary Developmental Biology or Evolution of Development) is a field which examines developmental biology processes and how these processes have evolved through time. Evo Devo is an emerging field that brings together molecular biology, developmental biology, genetics, and paleontology to answer questions like:

  • How do cell identities get defined?
  • What are the genetic mechanisms that specify what body parts develop at specific locations and times during development?
  • How do developmental mechanisms get reused in different developmental contexts? A set of interacting genes (a genetic network) might be reused multiple times to give rise to repeated structures like human ribs or centipede legs. Or a single genetic network might be important in the development of less obviously related structures like a wing and an antenna.
  • How do developmental mechanisms get reused through evolutionary time? What are the similarities in developmental processes between very old organisms like insects and more recently evolved organisms like mammals?
  • How do novel structures like feathers or butterfly eyespots originate? What are the modifications, duplications, and changes in regulation to old developmental processes that have made the development of novel structures possible?
  • Why have there been periods in evolutionary history marked by explosions in novel body structures and other periods of evolutionary history with minimal modifications to organismal forms?
  • How do development and evolution each constrain and influence each other? How does the evolutionary history of an organism limit the possibility for potential changes to the developmental processes of that organism? How do environmental forces that are essential in providing selection pressures that guide evolution affect developmental processes within an individual organism?

In the mid to late 19th century the study of development became integrated with the study of evolution with the notion that “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny,” the notion that both evolution (phylogeny) and development (ontogeny) have a branching, tree-like structure. The great diversity of organisms present on the earth today—the tips of the tree of life—can ultimately be traced to a common ancestor—the "tree trunk." Similarly, varied adult organismal forms—the tips of the tree—all develop from quite similar egg and embryonic states—again a sort of tree trunk. While this concept of the parallels between development and evolution has since been debunked, this was the beginning of understanding the interaction between development and evolution.

The study of development and the study of evolution diverged as disciplines during the first part of the 20th century. Not until the 1980s and 1990s with the emergence of comparative data of molecular bases of development in different species, were evolution and development studied and understood together again. Now Evo Devo represents a field probing some of the most interesting queries of how the biological world works.

What is Evo Devo Art?

Evo Devo Art is a term coined by Anna Lindemann who uses animation, lecture, video, and music to probe the mysterious biological processes behind the diverse, complex and beautiful biological world.

For Anna Lindemann, Evo Devo inspires both her work content and process. Natural history collection specimens come to life in her animated film Beetle Bluffs to illuminate the evolution of beetle mimicry. Her performance Theory of Flight delves into the genetic mechanisms of feather development, evolutionary theories of flight, and processes of regenerative limbs and transgenics. In her multimedia work Bird Brain, animated bird characters take inspiration from the peculiar natures of brood parasites and bowerbirds.

Anna also uses Evo Devo as a model for artistic creation. Many of the electronic music textures in her compositions, including the music for Beetle Bluffs, Theory of Flight, Winged One, Bird Brain, Where do you come from little seedling? and MAX Evo-Devo Music, have been developed algorithmically based on developmental biology processes. Most of her algorithmically generated musical textures have been developed using Max/MSP and the Matlab Technical Computing Environment.

Anna Lindemann has recently collaborated with Eric Lindemann in developing algorithms that use gene network processes as a model for music composition. Anna and Eric are currently pursuing creative research in the development of musical organisms modeled on the processes of cellular differentiation and cellular division that define biological development. 

Anna's work as an Evo Devo Artist has been written about in the final chapter, “One Culture of Beauty, Between Art and Science,” in David Rothenberg’s book Survival of the Beautiful: Art, Science, and Evolution (2011).

Anna is always eager to talk about Evo Devo Art. She is excited to hear about any questions you may have about Evo Devo Art or to hear about Evo Devo Artworks that others are developing.