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The overwhelming majority of animal species exhibit bilateral symmetry. However, the precise evolutionary importance of bilateral symmetry is unknown, although elements of the understanding of the phenomenon have been present within the scientific community for decades.
Here we show, with very simple physical laws, that locomotion in three-dimensional macro-world space is itself sufficient to explain the maintenance of bilateral symmetry in animal evolution. The ability to change direction, a key element of locomotion, requires the generation of instantaneous “pushing” surfaces, from which the animal can obtain the necessary force to depart in the new direction. We show that bilateral is the only type of symmetry that can maximize this force; thus, an actively locomoting bilateral body can have the maximal manoeuvrability as compared to other symmetry types. This confers an obvious selective advantage on the bilateral animal.
These considerations imply the view that animal evolution is a highly channelled process, in which bilateral and radial body symmetries seem to be inevitable.
This article was reviewed by Gáspár Jékely, L. Aravind and Eugene Koonin.