Writing about the weird soft-bodied fossils found in the Burgess Shale in the Canadian Rockies, paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould noted that of 25 initial body plans exhibited by the fossils, all but four were quickly eliminated.
If we rewound the tape, he asked, and cast the dice once more, would the same four body plans be selected? He thought it unlikely.
Obviously, we can't repeat the Burgess Shale, but Ken Olsen, an associate professor of biology at Washington University in St. Louis, says there are other ways to ask whether evolution is repeatable. One is to look at related species that have independently evolved the same traits and ask if the same genes are responsible and, if so, whether the same mutations led to the trait.