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C R Biol. 2009 Feb-Mar;332(2-3):184-209. doi: 10.1016/j.crvi.2008.07.009. Epub 2008 Nov 28.

Early evolution of symmetry and polarity in metazoan body plans.

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Université Paris 06, UMR 7138 CNRS UPMC MNHN IRD,7 Quai St Bernard, 75005 Paris, France.


The early diverging metazoan lineages have highly disparate adult body plan geometries, which can be characterised in terms of five major types of symmetry (asymmetrical, spherical, cylindrical, n-radial, bilateral). Patterns of evolutionary changes in symmetry types and the homology of body axes across lineages are discussed here by confronting evidence from comparative anatomy, phylogeny, genomics and evo-devo. The conventional scenario, postulating a graded complexification from asymmetry to radial and finally bilateral symmetry, is considered untenable. Cylindrical symmetry is likely to be the ancestral type from which derived all remaining types through multiple convergences. Recent proposals prompted by molecular data that the bilateral anatomies of many cnidarians and of the Bilateria are homologous are clearly not supported. The Hox-based patterning system operating along the antero-posterior axis of the Bilateria does not seem to predate their divergence with the Cnidaria, but intercellular signalling systems, notably the Wnt pathway, could have been involved in generating the main body axis in the last common ancestor of the Metazoa.

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