Understanding how extrinsic factors modulate genetically encoded information to produce a specific phenotype is of prime scientific interest. In particular, the feedback mechanism between abiotic forces and locomotory organs during morphogenesis to achieve efficient movement is a highly relevant example of such modulation. The study of this developmental process can provide unique insights on the transduction of cues at the interface between physics and biology. Here, we take advantage of the natural ability of adult zebrafish to regenerate their amputated fins to assess its morphogenic plasticity upon external modulations. Using a variety of surgical and chemical treatments, we are able to induce phenotypic responses to the structure of the fin. Through the ablation of specific rays in regenerating caudal fins, we generate artificially narrowed appendages in which the fin cleft depth and the positioning of rays bifurcations are perturbed compared to normal regenerates. To dissect the role of mechanotransduction in this process, we investigate the patterns of hydrodynamic forces acting on the surface of a zebrafish fin during regeneration by using particle tracking velocimetry on a range of biomimetic hydrofoils. This experimental approach enables us to quantitatively compare hydrodynamic stress distributions over flapping fins of varying sizes and shapes. As a result, viscous shear stress acting on the distal margin of regenerating fins and the resulting internal tension are proposed as suitable signals for guiding the regulation of ray growth dynamics and branching pattern. Our findings suggest that mechanical forces are involved in the fine-tuning of the locomotory organ during fin morphogenesis.

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