Spiral cleavage is a mode of embryonic cell division found in species from several Phyla, including molluscs, annelids and flatworms. It reflects a tilting in the direction of spindle orientation and cell division at the 4 to 8-cell stage, which may be dextral or sinistral, and propagates into later organismal asymmetry. Genetic analysis in a small number of gastropod molluscs shows the direction of spiral cleavage is determined by maternal genotype, though whether this is also the case more generally for spiralians, and whether spiral cleavage at the 4–8 cell stage is preceded by earlier internal chirality in any spiralian species, is unknown. Here we study the early cleavage stages of two equal-cleaving spiralians, the dextral annelid Spirobranchus lamarcki and the sinistral mollusc Biomphalaria glabrata, using light sheet microscopy to image subcellular vesicles in live embryos and asking if chirality of movement is identifiable. We observe variability in the early cleavage of S. lamarcki, including a viable 3-cell stage. Image data are analysed by both particle tracking and particle image velocimetry. Neither finds evidence for chiral movement in 1-, 2-, 3-, or 4-cell embryos, nor do we detect consistent differences between the embryos of the dextral and sinistrai species. The methodological and evolutionary implications of this are discussed.
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Vol. 36 • No. 1