Evolution is not Reversible – Louis Dollo

Louis Dollo supervising the mounting of an Iguanodon skeleton

Louis Dollo supervising the mounting of an Iguanodon skeleton

On December 7, 1857, French-born Belgian palaeontologist Louis Dollo was born. Dollo is best known for his work on dinosaurs. He also posited that evolution is not reversible, known as Dollo’s law. Together with the Austrian Othenio Abel, Dollo established the principles of paleobiology.

Louis Dollo was born in Lille, Nord-Pas-de-Calais. At the École Centrale de Lille, Dollo studied with the Jules Gosselet and the zoologist Alfred Giard. In 1877, Louis Dollo earned his engineering degree and afterwards he worked in the mining industry. Simultaneously, Dollo became quite enthusiastic for paleontology. He moved to Brussels in 1879 and supervised the excavation of the famous, multiple Iguanodon find at Bernissart, Belgium. He devoted himself to their study as a scientific passion, initially concurrently with his engineering career. In 1882, Louis Dollo became an assistant naturalist at the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences. Dollo was given membership in the Société des sciences de Lille and the Geological Society of London.

During the 1880s, Louis Dollo became head of the vertebrate fossil section of the Royal Institute and there he worked on reconstructing the skeletons of the Iguanodons, as it was necessary to display them on their hind legs. The first one was assembled in the interior of an unused church that Dollo was using as a workshop. Twelve of those skeletons have been the principal attraction of the Museum of Natural Sciences at the Royal Institute. Dollo collaborated with his former professor Alfred Giard and the Université Lille Nord de France.

During 1890, Louis Dollo formulated a hypothesis on the irreversible nature of evolution, known later as “Dollo’s Law“. The hypothesis was first advanced by a historian, Edgar Quinet. According to the famous hypothesis, a structure or organ lost during the course of evolution would not reappear in that organism. This hypothesis was largely accepted until Michael F. Whiting’s 2003 discovery that certain insects that had lost their wings regained them millions of years later. However, it was redeemed on the molecular level in 2009 as a result of a study on glucocorticoid receptors.

As Louis  Dollo continued his work on fossils, he also studied dinosaurs along with their ecology. Dollo became one of the first scientists to see fossil animals as part of an ecosystem. Because of that, he was instrumental in the development of paleobiology, and he kept up an extensive correspondence with Othenio Abel, another famous early paleobiologist. Dollo taught paleontology at the Université libre de Bruxelles beginning in 1909.

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