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Beautiful Asymmetry
30 March 2016

Beautiful Asymmetry

Symmetrical faces are supposed to be more attractive, but many of our organs and tissues developed to be asymmetrical – the heart, for example, uses different patterns of blood vessels on its left- and right-hand sides. Researchers are beginning to uncover the mechanisms responsible for left and right-handedness or chirality inside our bodies, and here they found asymmetry even inside single human cells. Tiny ‘bones’ of actin in each cell (green) bend from tiny anchor points (orange) on the surface below, ultimately producing the cells’ structure – its cytoskeleton. Although these cells are re-arranging their cytoskeletons in different ways, many eventually settle into spiral patterns (top right) that can be left or right-handed. The discovery of chirality inside single cells, the building blocks of tissues, suggests that asymmetry plays a vital role in the earliest stages of development, and that the beauty of symmetry is perhaps only skin deep.

Written by John Ankers

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BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC Laboratory of Medical Sciences until Jul 2023, it is now run independently by a dedicated team of scientists and writers. The website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biology, and its influence on medicine. The ever-growing archive of more than 4000 research images documents over a decade of progress. Explore the collection and see what you discover. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.

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