Conspicuous asymmetries seen in many animals and plants offer diverse opportunities to test how the development of a similar morphological feature has evolved in wildly different types of organisms. One key question is: do common rules govern how direction of asymmetry is determined (symmetry is broken) during ontogeny to yield an asymmetrical individual? Examples from numerous organisms illustrate how diverse this process is. These examples also provide some surprising answers to related questions. Is direction of asymmetry in an individual determined by genes, environment or chance? Is direction of asymmetry determined locally (structure by structure) or globally (at the level of the whole body)? Does direction of asymmetry persist when an asymmetrical structure regenerates following autotomy? The answers vary greatly for asymmetries as diverse as gastropod coiling direction, flatfish eye side, crossbill finch bill crossing, asymmetrical claws in shrimp, lobsters and crabs, katydid sound-producing structures, earwig penises and various plant asymmetries. Several examples also reveal how stochastic asymmetry in mollusc and crustacean early cleavage, in Drosophila oogenesis, and in Caenorhabditis elegans epidermal blast cell movement, is a normal component of deterministic development. Collectively, these examples shed light on the role of genes as leaders or followers in evolution.
This article is part of the themed issue ‘Provocative questions in left–right asymmetry’.
One contribution of 17 to a theme issue ‘Provocative questions in left–right asymmetry’.
- Accepted June 20, 2016.
- © 2016 The Author(s)
Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.