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Wednesday, November 21, 2012


Morphology is a term used in architecture, but more generally used as the history of variation in form[1] to talk about the evolution of a structure. The word itself is derived from the ancient Greek root -morph, meaning form and -logy, being the study of[1]. The word is widely used throughout different areas of study to analyze or classify something based on shape and external structure. The term, however, was originally borrowed from a branch of biology.
In biology, morphology is the study of living organisms and their parts, and finding relationships between these to classify species. Scientists regarded and noted the similarities of the physical appearances between organisms to identify specific clusters in phenotypic spaces, in identifying species with morphological similarities, scientists were able to see distinct clusters formed in these space and were able to sort them into species based on the clusters. It was a challenge, at times, to classify a species due to the ambiguity in determining how different organisms have to look in order to be considered different species (grey area - figure 1a).
Recent developments in DNA technology which allow the sequencing of the genetic code of an organism have shown that there are, however, problems with the morphology system. One of these problems is that some populations have a wide amount of phenotypic variation but still belong to the same species (figure 1c). The Echidina, for example, looks much like a porcupine or hedgehog, but isn't related to either. The Echidina's closest living relative is actually the platypus[2]. The other major problem with this concept is that sometimes different species have very similar phenotypes (figure 1b). The porcupine and the hedge hog have both individually evolved prickly spines on their back but haven’t actually had a common ancestor since the time of the dinosaurs[3]. Genetic code sequencing shows a great deal more information towards which species are truly related and has resulted in the movement away from the morphological classification system.
Though the the classification system is no longer pursued, the term proceeds as a way of analyzing a set of data in terms of its physical structure and a look at how a design has evolved over time.
Figure 1

[1] OED Online. September 2012. Oxford University Press.
(accessed November 21, 2012)
[2] Online.
www.cracked.com/article_19077_10-animals-you-wont-believe-are-closely-related (accessed November 21, 2012)
[3] Online. November 2012. Wikipedia.
(accessed November 21, 2012)

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