The principle of homology is central to conceptualizing the comparative aspects of morphological evolution. The distinctions between homologous or non-homologous structures have become blurred, however, as modern evolutionary developmental biology (evo-devo) has shown that novel features often result from modification of pre-existing developmental modules, rather than arising completely de novo. With this realization in mind, the term ‘deep homology’ was coined, in recognition of the remarkably conserved gene expression during the development of certain animal structures that would not be considered homologous by previous strict definitions. At its core, it can help to formulate an understanding of deeper layers of ontogenetic conservation for anatomical features that lack any clear phylogenetic continuity. Here, we review deep homology and related concepts in the context of a gene expression-based homology discussion. We then focus on how these conceptual frameworks have profited from the recent rise of high-throughput next-generation sequencing. These techniques have greatly expanded the range of organisms amenable to such studies. Moreover, they helped to elevate the traditional gene-by-gene comparison to a transcriptome-wide level. We will end with an outlook on the next challenges in the field and how technological advances might provide exciting new strategies to tackle these questions.
This article is part of the themed issue ‘Evo-devo in the genomics era, and the origins of morphological diversity’.
One contribution of 17 to a theme issue ‘Evo-devo in the genomics era, and the origins of morphological diversity’.
- Accepted July 8, 2016.
- © 2016 The Author(s)
Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.