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August 8, 2014

On the Origin of Bilateral Symmetry

It is a fundamental principle of evolutionary theory that Nature never anticipates. A gene pool cannot plan for changes in the environment, for the possible future emergence of new predators or any other contingency; the existential threats any gene pool ever encountered existed in the here-and-now. In this posting I propose that bilateral symmetry was originally selected, not for its future mobility-enhancing potential, but because it functioned as a cancer-preventing device in the earliest Bilaterians. 

Those familiar with my published theory know it asserts that all multicells can be divided into two mega-groups: those constructed of somatic cells which all contained functioning cancer triggers (oncogenes) and those that were incapable of dying of cancer. As my peer-reviewed 1984 Letter in the Journal of Theoretical Biology stated succinctly, "This theory states that oncogenes, thus defined, have been present in every cell of every specimen of every species of the Bilateria that ever existed, and that they have existed nowhere else in Nature."

My 1983 Letter asserted that evolutionarily significant lethal cancer did occur in developing Bilaterians in numbers sufficient to create selection pressure for the accumulation of anti-cancer mechanisms and, because cancer begins with replication error, that all those defenses " ... enhanced the ability of the genomes to create organisms in which the genetic program is expressed with great fidelity in all somatic cells." (1)
I am convinced that one of the earliest anti-cancer adaptations was rejection of the radial symmetry found in other multicells (including the likely ancestors of Bilaterians) and selection of symmetry along a longitudinal axis, a radical departure that enabled gene pools to produce sufficient numbers of animals free of cancer during development.