Genetics and Evolution

What is punctuated equilibrium?

Punctuated equilibrium is a model of macroevolution first detailed in 1972 by Niles Eldredge (1943–) and Stephen J. Gould (1941–2002). It can be considered either a rival or supplementary model to the more gradual-moving model of evolution posited by neo-Darwinism. The punctuated equilibrium model essentially asserts that most of geological history shows periods of little evolutionary change, followed by short (geologically speaking, a few million years) periods of time of rapid evolutionary change. Gould and Eldredge’s work has been buttressed by the discovery of the Hox genes that control embryonic development. Hox genes are found in all vertebrates and many other species as well; they control the placement of body parts in the developing embryo. Relatively minor mutations in these gene sequences could result in major body changes for species in a short period of time, thereby giving rise to new forms of organisms and therefore new species.


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