, Volume 89, Issue 1-3, pp 121-137

Antisymmetry, directional asymmetry, and dynamic morphogenesis

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Fluctuating asymmetry is the most commonly used measure of developmental instability. Some authors have claimed that antisymmetry and directional asymmetry may have a significant genetic basis, thereby rendering these forms of asymmetry useless for studies of developmental instability. Using a modified Rashevsky-Turing reaction-diffusion model of morphogenesis, we show that both antisymmetry and directional asymmetry can arise from symmetry-breaking phase transitions. Concentrations of morphogen on right and left sides can be induced to undergo transitions from phase-locked periodicity, to phase-lagged periodicity, to chaos, by simply changing the levels of feedback and inhibition in the model. The chaotic attractor has two basins of attraction-right sidedominance and left side dominance. With minor disturbance, a developmental trajectory settles into one basin or the other. With increasing disturbance, the trajectory can jump from basin to basin. The changes that lead to phase transitions and chaos are those expected to occur with either genetic change or stress. If we assume that the morphogen influences the behavior of cell populations, then a transition from phase-locked periodicity to chaos in the morphogen produces a corresponding transition from fluctuating asymmetry to antisymmetry in both morphogen concentrations and cell populations. Directional asymmetry is easily modeled by introducing a bias in the conditions of the simulation. We discuss the implications of this model for researchers using fluctuating asymmetry as an indicator of stress.