Get access

On homology



    1. Department of Biology, Tale University, New Haven, Connecticut 06511, and Division of Mammals, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. 20560, U.S.A.
    Search for more papers by this author
    • *Department of Zoology, Duke University, Durham, NC 27706, U.S.A


The currently most widely used definitions of homology, which concentrate exclusively on what I call phylogenetic homology, involve comparisons between taxa. Although they share important conceptual relationships with phylogenetic homology and their role in evolutionary biology is significant, serial and other forms of iterative homology have been, by comparison, overlooked. There is need for a more inclusive definition of homology. I propose that the basis of homology in the broad sense is the sharing of pathways of development, which are controlled by genealogically-related genes. Using this definition, one can construct hierarchies of homology, and recognize different degrees or strengths of homology. Because different aspects of structures are controlled by distinct developmental programs, it is sometimes necessary to speak of homologies of different attributes of specific structures, rather than to homologize the structures per se. For good biological reasons, parallelism may be difficult to distinguish from homology, and one must in practice be willing to tolerate some ambiguity between them. The formulation I present leads to some unorthodox conclusions about homology in mammalian dentitions and homology between the fore-and hindlimbs of tetrapods.