In biology, homology is the existence of shared ancestry between a pair of structures, or genes, in different taxa. A common example of homologous structures is the forelimbs of vertebrates, where the wings of bats, the arms of primates, the front flippers of whales and the forelegs of dogs and horses are all derived from the same ancestral tetrapod structure. Evolutionary biology explains homologous structures adapted to different purposes as the result of descent with modification from a common ancestor.
- Homology vs analogy
- In cladistics
- In arthropods
- In mammals
- In plants
- Developmental biology
- Sequence homology
- In behavior
In developmental biology, organs that developed in the embryo in the same manner and from similar origins, such as from matching primordia in successive segments of the same animal, must be homologous. Examples include the legs of a centipede, the maxillary palp and labial palp of an insect, and the spinous processes of successive vertebrae in a vertebral column.
Sequence homology between protein or DNA sequences is similarly defined in terms of shared ancestry. Two segments of DNA can have shared ancestry because of either a speciation event (orthologs) or a duplication event (paralogs). Homology among proteins or DNA is inferred from their sequence similarity. Significant similarity is strong evidence that two sequences are related by divergent evolution from a common ancestor. Alignments of multiple sequences are used to discover the homologous regions.
In the development of the differences between males and females in the embryo, male and female reproductive organs are homologous if they develop from the same embryonic tissue, as do the ovaries and testicles of mammals including humans.
The word homology, coined in about 1656, derives from the Greek ὁμόλογος homologos from ὁμός homos "same" and λόγος logos "relation".
Homology is the relationship between biological structures or sequences that are derived from a common ancestor. For example, many insects (such as dragonflies) possess two pairs of flying wings. In beetles, the first pair of wings has evolved into a pair of hard wing covers, while in Dipteran flies the second pair of wings has evolved into small halteres used for balance.
Similarly, the forelimbs of ancestral vertebrates have evolved into the front flippers of whales, the wings of birds, the running forelegs of dogs, deer, and horses, the short forelegs of frogs and lizards, and the grasping hands of primates including humans. The same major forearm bones (humerus, radius, and ulna) are found in fossils of lobe-finned fish such as Eusthenopteron.
Homology vs analogy
The opposite of homologous organs are analogous organs which do similar jobs in two taxa that were not present in their last common ancestor but rather evolved separately. For example, the wings of insects and birds evolved independently in widely separated groups, and converged functionally to support powered flight, so they are analogous. Similarly, the wings of a sycamore maple seed and the wings of a bird are analogous but not homologous, as they develop from quite different structures. A structure can be homologous at one level, but only analogous at another. For example, pterosaur, bird and bat wings are analogous as wings, but homologous as forelimbs because the organ served as a forearm (not a wing) in the last common ancestor of tetrapods, and evolved in different ways in the three groups. For example, in the pterosaurs, the "wing" involves both the forelimb and the hindlimb. Analogy is called homoplasy in cladistics, and convergent or parallel evolution in evolutionary biology.
Specialised terms are used in taxonomic research. Primary homology is that initially conjectured by a researcher based on similar structure or anatomical connections, who states a hypothesis that two characters share an ancestry. Secondary homology is implied by parsimony analysis, where a character that only occurs once on a tree is taken to be homologous. As implied in this definition, many cladists consider homology to be synonymous with synapomorphy, a shared derived character or trait state that distinguishes a clade from other organisms.
Homologies provide the fundamental basis for all biological classification, although some may be highly counter-intuitive. The embryonic body segments (somites) of different arthropods taxa have diverged from a simple body plan with many similar appendages, into a variety of body plans with fewer segments equipped with specialised appendages. The homologies between these have been discovered by comparing genes in evolutionary developmental biology.
Among insects, the stinger of the female honey bee is a modified ovipositor, homologous with ovipositors in other insects such as the Orthoptera, Hemiptera, and those Hymenoptera without stingers.
The three small bones in the middle ear of mammals including humans, the malleus, incus, and stapes, are today used to transmit sound from the eardrum to the inner ear. The malleus and incus develop in the embryo from structures that form jaw bones (the quadrate and the articular) in lizards, and in fossils of lizard-like ancestors of mammals. Both lines of evidence show that these bones are homologous, sharing a common ancestor.
Among the many homologies in mammal reproductive systems, ovaries and testicles are homologous.
In many plants, defensive or storage structures are made by modifications of the development of primary leaves, stems, and roots.
Certain compound leaves of flowering plants are partially homologous both to leaves and shoots, because their development has evolved from a genetic mosaic of leaf and shoot development.
Developmental biology can identify homologous structures that arose from the same tissue in embryogenesis. For example, adult snakes have no legs, but their early embryos have limb-buds for hind legs, which are soon lost as the embryos develop. The implication that the ancestors of snakes had hind legs is confirmed by fossil evidence: the Cretaceous snake Pachyrhachis problematicus had hind legs complete with hip bones (ilium, pubis, ischium), thigh bone (femur), leg bones (tibia, fibula) and foot bones (calcaneum, astragalus) as in tetrapods with legs today.
As with anatomical structures, sequence homology between protein or DNA sequences is defined in terms of shared ancestry. Two segments of DNA can have shared ancestry because of either a speciation event (orthologs) or a duplication event (paralogs). Homology among proteins or DNA is typically inferred from their sequence similarity. Significant similarity is strong evidence that two sequences are related by divergent evolution of a common ancestor. Alignments of multiple sequences are used to indicate which regions of each sequence are homologous.
Homologous sequences are orthologous if they are descended from the same ancestral sequence separated by a speciation event: when a species diverges into two separate species, the copies of a single gene in the two resulting species are said to be orthologous. Orthologs, or orthologous genes, are genes in different species that originated by vertical descent from a single gene of the last common ancestor. The term "ortholog" was coined in 1970 by the molecular evolutionist Walter Fitch.
Homologous sequences are paralogous if they were created by a duplication event within the genome. For gene duplication events, if a gene in an organism is duplicated to occupy two different positions in the same genome, then the two copies are paralogous. Paralogous genes often belong to the same species. They can shape the structure of whole genomes and thus explain genome evolution to a large extent. Examples include the Homeobox (Hox) genes in animals. These genes not only underwent gene duplications within chromosomes but also whole genome duplications. As a result, Hox genes in most vertebrates are clustered across multiple chromosomes with the HoxA-D clusters being the best studied.
It has been suggested that some behaviors might be homologous, based on either shared behavior across related taxa or common origins of the behavior in an individual's development, though this remains controversial.