Evolution + Development

Despite their distinct evolutionary histories, different species can sometimes arrive at similar solutions for survival. The work of various researchers at Whitehead Institute investigates this fascinating phenomenon, called convergent evolution, through the lens of shared mechanisms governing reproduction, development, and regeneration across a range of species.

Changes in DNA and gene function are the engines that drive evolution. These seemingly small modifications in an organism’s evolutionary journey ultimately dictate its fate —  deciding which traits will be safeguarded and transmitted through generations, and which new traits will emerge. Whitehead Institute researchers are studying how organisms sharing a common ancestor develop unique traits over time, diverging from one another. These traits — encoded in the genes — impact their chances of survival and reproduction.

A new paper from the lab of Whitehead Institute Director Ruth Lehmann reveals how primordial germ cells in flies migrate from one end of an embryo to the other during development. The work could have implications for how scientists study germ cells in vivo, as well as other motile cells such as cancer cells.