The regular hexagonal array morphology of facets (ommatidia) in the Drosophila compound eye is accomplished by regulation of cell differentiation and planar cell polarity during development. Mutations in certain genes disrupt regulation, causing a breakdown of this perfect symmetry, so that the ommatidial pattern shows onset of disorder in the form of packing defects. We analyze a variety of such mutants and compare them to normal (wild-type), finding that mutants show increased local variation in ommatidial area, which is sufficient to induce a significant number of defects. A model formalism based on Voronoi construction is developed to predict the observed correlation between ommatidium size variation and the number of defects, and to study the onset of disorder in this system with statistical tools. The model uncovers a previously unknown large-scale systematic size variation of the ommatidia across the eye of both wild-type and mutant animals. Such systematic variation of area, as well as its statistical fluctuations, are found to have distinct effects on eye disorder that can both be quantitatively modeled. Furthermore, the topological order is also influenced by the internal structure of the ommatidia, with cells of greater relative mechanical stiffness providing constraints to ommatidial deformation and thus to defect generation. Without free parameters, the simulation predicts the size-topology correlation for both wild-type and mutant eyes. This work develops formalisms of size-topology correlation that are very general and can be potentially applied to other cellular structures near the onset of disorder.
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