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The vertebrate limb bud provides a unique system to investigate the coordinated regulation of growth and patterning, two key processes that govern the formation of a complex multicellular organism from a fertilized egg. Two studies have advanced our understanding of limb development by elucidating that signaling gradients from the limb ectoderm, including the apical ectoderm ridge (AER), act in concert to establish a basic pattern of tissue layers by coordinating cell proliferation and cell fate determination. These studies reveal that cell proliferation and fate determination in development can be two faces of the same coin in that they are regulated by the same signaling pathways. Alterations in the duration and range of the signaling gradients may underlie many of the morphological differences in the evolution of vertebrate limbs.