Int. J. Dev. Biol. 47: 505 - 515 (2003)
© UBC Press

The Cambrian "explosion" of metazoans and molecular biology: would Darwin be satisfied?

Simon Conway-Morris

Department of Earth Sciences, University of Cambridge, UK. sc113@esc.cam.ac.uk

ABSTRACT The origins of metazoan bodyplans and the extent to which they are coincident with the Cambrian "explosion" are both areas of continuing debate. The fossil record has a unique advantage in terms of historical perspective, but remains highly contentious on account of the often controversial interpretations of particular groups (e.g. halkieriids, vetulicolians) and the heavy reliance on "windows" of exceptional preservation (e.g. Chengjiang, Burgess Shale). Molecular and developmental biology offer other unique insights, but may be problematic in terms of conflicting phylogenetic signals and questions revolving around gene co-option, evolution of developmental systems and even convergence. Such topics, far from frustrating the enterprise, actually widen our understanding of the nature of the evolutionary process with the exciting promise of the discovery of more general principles.