Evolution: Education and Outreach
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A body plan is a suite of characters shared by a group of phylogenetically related animals at some point during their development. The concept of bauplane, or body plans, has played and continues to play a central role in the study of evolutionary developmental biology (evo-devo). Despite the importance of the body plan concept in evo-devo, many researchers may not be familiar with the progression of ideas that have led to our current understanding of body plans, and/or current research on the origin and maintenance of body plans. This lack of familiarity, as well as former ties between the body plan concept and metaphysical ideology is likely responsible for our underappreciation of the body plan concept in its own right, as well as its role in evo-devo. My aim in this review is to outline how we have arrived at our modern definition of body plan, the controversies associated with the concept, its role in evo-devo, and how current research is informing us on body plans. To this end, I integrate concepts such as the nature of phyla, the Cambrian explosion, constraint, evolvability, and results from recent research on gene regulatory networks with the much older concept of the body plan.