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Development. 2017 Oct 1;144(19):3392-3404. doi: 10.1242/dev.141507.

On the evolution of bilaterality.

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Department for Molecular Evolution and Development, Centre of Organismal Systems Biology, University of Vienna, Althanstraße 14, A-1090 Vienna, Austria


Bilaterality - the possession of two orthogonal body axes - is the name-giving trait of all bilaterian animals. These body axes are established during early embryogenesis and serve as a three-dimensional coordinate system that provides crucial spatial cues for developing cells, tissues, organs and appendages. The emergence of bilaterality was a major evolutionary transition, as it allowed animals to evolve more complex body plans. Therefore, how bilaterality evolved and whether it evolved once or several times independently is a fundamental issue in evolutionary developmental biology. Recent findings from non-bilaterian animals, in particular from Cnidaria, the sister group to Bilateria, have shed new light into the evolutionary origin of bilaterality. Here, we compare the molecular control of body axes in radially and bilaterally symmetric cnidarians and bilaterians, identify the minimal set of traits common for Bilateria, and evaluate whether bilaterality arose once or more than once during evolution.


Bilateral symmetry; Bilateria; Body axes; Cnidaria

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