Send to

Choose Destination
Bioessays. 2005 Nov;27(11):1174-80.

Did internal transport, rather than directed locomotion, favor the evolution of bilateral symmetry in animals?

Author information

Department of Biology, Boston University, 5 Cummington Street, Boston, MA 02215, USA.


The standard explanation for the origin of bilateral symmetry is that it conferred an advantage over radial symmetry for directed locomotion. However, recent developmental and phylogenetic studies suggest that bilateral symmetry may have evolved in a sessile benthic animal, predating the origin of directed locomotion. An evolutionarily feasible alternative explanation is that bilateral symmetry evolved to improve the efficiency of internal circulation by affecting the compartmentalization of the gut and the location of major ciliary tracts. This functional design principle is illustrated best by the phylum Cnidaria where symmetry varies from radial to tetraradial, biradial and bilateral. In the Cnidaria, bilateral symmetry is manifest most strongly in the internal anatomy and the disposition of ciliary tracts. Furthermore, the bilaterally symmetrical Cnidaria are typically sessile and, in those bilaterally symmetrical cnidarians that undergo directed locomotion, the secondary body axis does not bear a consistent orientation to the direction of locomotion as it typically does in Bilateria. Within the Cnidaria, the hypothesized advantage of bilateral symmetry for internal circulation can be tested by experimental analysis and computer modeling of fluid mechanics. The developmental evolution of symmetry within the Cnidaria can be further explored through comparative gene expression studies among species whose symmetry varies.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Wiley
Loading ...
Support Center