Concatenated Analysis Sheds Light on Early Metazoan Evolution and Fuels a Modern “Urmetazoon” Hypothesis
Citation: Bernd Schierwater, Michael Eitel, Wolfgang Jakob, Hans-Jürgen Osigus, Heike Hadrys, Stephen L. Dellaporta, Sergios-Orestis Kolokotronis, Rob DeSalle (2009) Concatenated Analysis Sheds Light on Early Metazoan Evolution and Fuels a Modern “Urmetazoon” Hypothesis. PLoS Biology (Volume 7 (1)) (RSS)
Following one of the basic principles in evolutionary biology that complex life forms derive from more primitive ancestors, it has long been believed that the higher animals, the Bilateria, arose from simpler (diploblastic) organisms such as the cnidarians (corals, polyps, and jellyfishes). A large number of studies, using different datasets and different methods, have tried to determine the most ancestral animal group as well as the ancestor of the higher animals. Here, we use “total evidence” analysis, which incorporates all available data (including morphology, genome, and gene expression data) and come to a surprising conclusion. The Bilateria and Cnidaria (together with the other diploblastic animals) are in fact sister groups: that is, they evolved in parallel from a very simple common ancestor. We conclude that the higher animals (Bilateria) and lower animals (diploblasts), probably separated very early, at the very beginning of metazoan animal evolution and independently evolved their complex body plans, including body axes, nervous system, sensory organs, and other characteristics. The striking similarities in several complex characters (such as the eyes) resulted from both lineages using the same basic genetic tool kit, which was already present in the common ancestor. The study identifies Placozoa as the most basal diploblast group and thus a living fossil genome that nicely demonstrates, not only that complex genetic tool kits arise before morphological complexity, but also that these kits may form similar morphological structures in parallel.