GRE General Test: RC-164393 GRE Reading Comprehension

The two claws of the mature American lobster are decidedly different from each other. The crusher claw is short and stout; the cutter claw is long and slender. Such bilateral asymmetry, in which the right side of the body is, in all other respects, a mirror image of the left side, is not unlike handedness in humans. But where the majority of humans are right-handed, in lobsters the crusher claw appears with equal probability on either the right or left side of the body. Bilateral asymmetry of the claws comes about gradually. In the juvenile fourth and fifth stages of development, the paired claws are symmetrical and cutterlike. Asymmetry begins to appear in the juvenile sixth stage of development, and the paired claws further diverge toward well-defined cutter and crusher claws during succeeding stages. An intriguing aspect of this development was discovered by Victor Emmel. He found that if one of the paired claws is removed during the fourth or fifth stage, the intact claw invariably becomes a crusher, while the regenerated claw becomes a cutter. Removal of a claw during a later juvenile stage or during adulthood, when asymmetry is present, does not alter the asymmetry; the intact and the regenerate claws retain their original structures.

These observations indicate that the conditions that trigger differentiation must operate in a random, manner when the paired claws are intact but in a nonrandom manner when one of the claws is lost. One possible explanation is that differential use of the claws determines their asymmetry. Perhaps the claw that is used more becomes the crusher. This would explain why, when one of the claws is missing during the fourth or fifth stage, the intact claw always becomes a crusher. With two intact claws, initial use of one claw might prompt the animal to use it more than the other throughout the juvenile fourth and fifth stages, causing it to become a crusher.

To test this hypothesis, researchers raised lobsters in the juvenile fourth and fifth stages of development in a laboratory environment in which the lobsters could manipulate oyster chips.(Not coincidentally, at this stage of development lobsters typically change from a habitat where they drifi passively, to the ocean floor where they have the opportunity to be more active by burrowing in the substrate.)Under these conditions, the lobsters developed asymmetric claws, half with crusher claws on the left, arid half with crusher claws on the right. In contrast, when juvenile lobsters were reared in a smooth tank without the loyster chips, the majority developed two cutter claws. This unusual configuration of symmetrical cutter claws did not change when the lobsters were subsequently placed in a manipulatable environment or when they lost and regenerated one or both claws.
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