Contributions to Zoology, 86 (4) – 2017Menno Schilthuizen; Rob Langelaan; Nicola Hemmings; Wesley van Oostenbrugge; Stefan Visser: An unexpected twist: Sperm cells coil to the right in land snails and to the left in song birds

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In animals, cell polarity may initiate symmetry breaking very early in development, ultimately leading to whole-body asymmetry. Helical sperm cells, which occur in a variety of animal clades, are one class of cells that show clearly visible bilateral asymmetry. We used scanning-electron microscopy to study coiling direction in helical sperm cells in two groups of animals that have figured prominently in the sperm morphology literature, namely land snails, Stylommatophora (514 spermatozoa, from 27 individuals, belonging to 8 species and 4 families) and songbirds, Passeriformes (486 spermatozoa, from 26 individuals, belonging to 18 species and 8 families). We found that the snail sperm cells were consistently dextral (clockwise), whereas the bird sperm cells were consistently sinistral (counterclockwise). We discuss reasons why this apparent evolutionary conservatism of sperm cell chirality may or may not be related to whole-body asymmetry.