The development of body and organ shape

Ansa E. Cobham, Christen K. Mirth

Research output: Contribution to journalReview ArticleResearchpeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Organisms show an incredibly diverse array of body and organ shapes that are both unique to their taxon and important for adapting to their environment. Achieving these specific shapes involves coordinating the many processes that transform single cells into complex organs, and regulating their growth so that they can function within a fully-formed body. Main text: Conceptually, body and organ shape can be separated in two categories, although in practice these categories need not be mutually exclusive. Body shape results from the extent to which organs, or parts of organs, grow relative to each other. The patterns of relative organ size are characterized using allometry. Organ shape, on the other hand, is defined as the geometric features of an organ’s component parts excluding its size. Characterization of organ shape is frequently described by the relative position of homologous features, known as landmarks, distributed throughout the organ. These descriptions fall into the domain of geometric morphometrics. Conclusion: In this review, we discuss the methods of characterizing body and organ shape, the developmental programs thought to underlie each, highlight when and how the mechanisms regulating body and organ shape might overlap, and provide our perspective on future avenues of research.

Original languageEnglish
Article number14
Number of pages15
JournalBMC Zoology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2020


  • Allometry
  • Body shape
  • Environmentally-sensitive growth
  • Geometric morphometrics
  • Morphogens
  • Organ patterning
  • Organ shape

Cite this