Another kind of harmony

by Vivienne Baillie Gerritsen

Would Nature not tend instinctively towards symmetry? In our eyes, symmetry often spells equilibrium, a source of beauty. Consider the work of architects, or engineers. Houses, skyscrapers, bridges and dams are usually symmetric which is not only, and in a mysterious way, emotionally reassuring but also in keeping with the laws of physics. In the same vein, a face that strikes us as being attractive is a face whose sides echo one another. Anything that drifts from these unsaid boundaries strikes us as being odd, if not ugly: think of the Elephant Man. Despite this, life is defined by an underlying lack of symmetry. In fact, Nature frequently seeks a way to break symmetry. Take humans: our heart is not symmetric, neither is the arrangement of our organs inside us, and our brain hemispheres are involved in very different aspects of intelligence. Why has Nature chosen asymmetry? And how does it occur in the first place? The field of research is relatively recent and the answers to these questions are still far from satisfactory. However, we do know that a certain form of myosin, known as myosin 1D, is directly involved in paving the paths of asymmetry in zebrafish.

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