Change of Function

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Change of Function


a principle of organic evolutionary change whereby the main function of an organ gradually loses its importance and is replaced by a secondary function. The former main function either survives as a secondary function or completely disappears. A. Dohrn established the principle in 1875.

An example of change of function accompanied by the loss of a previous main function is the development of the wing of a bird from the pentadactyl extremity of reptiles. The previous main function, support on the ground, was completely lost and replaced by a new function, movement in the air. An example of change of function whereby the former main function becomes a secondary function is the development of the talpid anterior extremity. The support function during crawling is preserved, but digging has become the main function. Change of function occurs as a result of environmental change and is made possible by the multiplicity of function of organs.


Dohrn, A. Proiskhozhdenie pozvonochnykh zhivotnykh i printsip smeny funktsii. Moscow-Leningrad, 1937. (Translated from German.)
Severtsov, A. N. Morfologicheskie zakonomernosti evoliutsii. Moscow-Leningrad, 1949.


Change of Function


a principle of evolutionary change in organisms whereby a function that is lost—usually with an accompanying reduction of the organ that performed it—is replaced by another, biologically equivalent function that is performed by a different organ. The principle was determined by the Soviet biologist A. N. Severtsov. An example of change of function can be seen in snakes: their reduced extremities were once their ancestors’ organs of locomotion, a function that is now effected by a flexing of the snake’s spinal column.


Severtsov, A. N. Morfologicheskie zakonomernosti evoliutsii. Moscow-Leningrad, 1939.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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