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Genes Change, and So Do the Words that Describe Them

Biologists, like cyberwonks, are always inventing new words and acronyms to confuse us--just try dipping into the cell cycle literature now and then. As new discoveries are made, dictionaries don't seem to hold enough words to describe them. Remember 'analogous' and 'homologous'? Many a college student memorized the difference as applied to the evolution of structures like limbs and wings. Insect wings and bird wings are analogous; bird wings and human arms are homologous. But in modern evolut

Barry Palevitz
Biologists, like cyberwonks, are always inventing new words and acronyms to confuse us--just try dipping into the cell cycle literature now and then. As new discoveries are made, dictionaries don't seem to hold enough words to describe them.

Remember 'analogous' and 'homologous'? Many a college student memorized the difference as applied to the evolution of structures like limbs and wings. Insect wings and bird wings are analogous; bird wings and human arms are homologous. But in modern evolutionary biology, as illuminated by genomics, the two words don't carry enough explanatory clout to deal with the many related genes held in common between species.

Rising to the challenge, molecular biologists adopted 'orthologous' and 'paralogous' to describe the relationships (the words were actually coined more than 30 years ago1). Unfortunately, as the new words began popping up everywhere, the rest of us were left to wonder, "Where did those come...

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