The past decade has witnessed many changes in the way in which biologists study vertebrate development. Like curious children, we have progressed from merely watching and playing with our toys to the more exciting activity of taking them apart. This progression is mainly due to the application of a number of new techniques that allow us not only to ablate gene function, but also to induce gene activity inappropriately in time and space. Through the use of these techniques we can no disassemble our 'toys' and begin to understand how the pieces fit together and, thus, we are beginning to understand how the vertebrate embryo develops. Additionally, the analysis and comparison of limb development in diverse species has provided much insight into the evolutionary mechanisms through which changes in developmental pathways have led to the extraordinary diversity of limbs.
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