Dollo's law of irreversibility

Dollo's law of irreversibility (also known as Dollo's law and Dollo's principle) is a hypothesis proposed in 1893[1] by French-born Belgian paleontologist Louis Dollo which states that evolution is not reversible. This hypothesis was first stated by Dollo in this way: "An organism is unable to return, even partially, to a previous stage already realized in the ranks of its ancestors."[2] The statement is often misinterpreted as a less stringent hypothesis regarding the likelihood of regain of lost structures or organs, which are unlikely to reappear in the (loosely defined) 'same form.'[3][4] According to Richard Dawkins, the law is "really just a statement about the statistical improbability of following exactly the same evolutionary trajectory twice (or, indeed, any particular trajectory), in either direction."[5] Stephen Gould suggested that irreversibility forecloses certain evolutionary pathways once broad forms have emerged: "[For example], once you adopt the ordinary body plan of a reptile, hundreds of options are forever closed, and future possibilities must unfold within the limits of inherited design."[6]

An example

A 2009 study on the evolution of protein structure proposed a new mechanism for Dollo's law. It examined a hormone receptor that had evolved from an ancestral protein that was able to bind two hormones to a new protein that was specific for a single hormone. This change was produced by two amino acid substitutions, which prevent binding of the second hormone. However, several other changes subsequently occurred, which were selectively neutral as they did not affect hormone binding. When the authors tried to revert the protein back to its ancestral state by mutating the two "binding residues", they found the other changes had destabilised the ancestral state of the protein. They concluded that in order for this protein to evolve in reverse and regain its ability to bind two hormones, several independent neutral mutations would have to occur purely by chance with no selection pressure. As this is extremely unlikely, it may explain why evolution tends to run in one direction.[7]

Proposed exceptions to Dollo's law

Although the exact threshold for violations of Dollo's law is unclear, there are several case studies whose results dispute the validity of some interpretations. For example, many taxa of gastropods have reduced shells, and some have lost coiling of their shell altogether.[8] According to S. J. Gould's interpretation of Dollo's law, it would not be possible to regain a coiled shell after the coiling has been lost. Nevertheless, a few genera in the slipper snail family (Calyptraeidae) may have changed their developmental timing (heterochrony) and regained a coiled shell from a limpet-like shell.[8][9] Other proposed 'exceptions' include the wings of stick insects,[10] the larval stages of salamanders,[11][12] lost toes in lizards,[13][14] clavicles in non-avian theropod dinosaurs,[15] and neck, pectoral region, and upper limb musculature in primates, including the lineage leading to humans.[16]

See also


  1. Dollo, L (1893). Les lois de l'évolution. Bull. Soc. Belge Geol. Pal. Hydr, VII:164-166.
  2. Dollo, quoted in "Evolution: Ammonites Indicate Reversal," in Nature, March 21, 1970
  3. Goldberg, Emma E; Boris Igić (2008). "On phylogenetic tests of irreversible evolution". Evolution. 62 (11): 2727–2741. doi:10.1111/j.1558-5646.2008.00505.x. PMID 18764918.
  4. Collin, Rachel; Maria Pia Miglietta (2008). "Reversing opinions on Dollo's Law". Trends in Ecology & Evolution. 23 (11): 602–609. doi:10.1016/j.tree.2008.06.013. PMID 18814933.
  5. Dawkins, Richard (1996) [1986]. The Blind Watchmaker. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. ISBN 0-393-31570-3.
  6. Gould, Stephen J. [1993] (2007) "Eight little piggies," Vintage Books. ISBN 978-0-09-950744-4
  7. Bridgham, Jamie T.; Eric A. Ortlund; Joseph W. Thornton (2009). "An epistatic ratchet constrains the direction of glucocorticoid receptor evolution". Nature. 461 (7263): 515–519. doi:10.1038/nature08249. ISSN 0028-0836. PMID 19779450.
  8. 1 2 Collin, R.; Cipriani, R. (2003). "Dollo's law and the re-evolution of shell coiling". Proceedings of the Royal Society B. 270 (1533): 2551–2555. doi:10.1098/rspb.2003.2517. PMC 1691546Freely accessible. PMID 14728776.
  9. Pagel, M. (2004). "Limpets break Dollo's Law". Trends in Ecology & Evolution. 19: 278. doi:10.1016/j.tree.2004.03.020.
  10. Whiting, MF.,S. Bradler & T. Maxwell (2003). Loss and recovery of wings in stick insects. Nature 421 264-267.
  11. Chippindale, P. T. and J. J. Wiens. (2005). Re-evolution of the larval stage in the Plethodontid salamander genus Desmognathus. Herpetological Review 36(2) 113.
  12. Marshall, C. R., et al. (1994). Dollo's law and the death and resurrection of genes. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 91 12283.
  13. Galis, F., et al. (2010). Dollo's law and the irreversibility of digit loss in Bachia. Evolution 64(8) 2466.
  14. Davies, E. Frogs re-evolved lost lower teeth. BBC News. January 31, 2011. Retrieved February 9, 2011.
  15. Paul, Gregory S (2002). Dinosaurs of the Air: the evolution and loss of flight in dinosaurs and birds. CJHU Press. p. 10. ISBN 0-8018-6763-0.
  16. Diogo, R.; Wood, B. (2012). "Violation of Dollo's Law: Evidence of Muscle Reversions in Primate Phylogeny and Their Implications for the Understanding of the Ontogeny, Evolution, and Anatomical Variations of Modern Humans". Evolution. 66 (10): 3267. doi:10.1111/j.1558-5646.2012.01621.x.

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