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      Embryonic and post-embryonic development of the polyclad flatworm Maritigrella crozieri; implications for the evolution of spiralian life history traits

      , 1 , 2

      Frontiers in Zoology

      BioMed Central

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          Planktonic life history stages of spiralians share some muscular, nervous and ciliary system characters in common. The distribution of these characters is patchy and can be interpreted either as the result of convergent evolution, or as the retention of primitive spiralian larval features. To understand the evolution of these characters adequate taxon sampling across the Spiralia is necessary. Polyclad flatworms are the only free-living Platyhelminthes that exhibit a continuum of developmental modes, with direct development at one extreme, and indirect development via a trochophore-like larval stage at the other. Here I present embryological and larval anatomical data from the indirect developing polyclad Maritrigrella crozieri, and consider these data within a comparative spiralian context.


          After 196 h hours of embryonic development, M. crozieri hatches as a swimming, planktotrophic larva. Larval myoanatomy consists of an orthogonal grid of circular and longitudinal body wall muscles plus parenchymal muscles. Diagonal body wall muscles develop over the planktonic period. Larval neuroanatomy consists of an apical plate, neuropile, paired nerve cords, a peri-oral nerve ring, a medial nerve, a ciliary band nerve net and putative ciliary photoreceptors. Apical neural elements develop first followed by posterior perikarya and later pharyngeal neural elements. The ciliated larva is encircled by a continuous, pre-oral band of longer cilia, which follows the distal margins of the lobes; it also possesses distinct apical and caudal cilia.


          Within polyclads heterochronic shifts in the development of diagonal bodywall and pharyngeal muscles are correlated with life history strategies and feeding requirements. In contrast to many spiralians, M. crozieri hatch with well developed nervous and muscular systems. Comparisons of the ciliary bands and apical organs amongst spiralian planktonic life-stages reveal differences; M. crozieri lack a distinct ciliary band muscle and flask-shaped epidermal serotonergic cells of the apical organ. Based on current phylogenies, the distribution of ciliary bands and apical organs between polyclads and other spiralians is not congruent with a hypothesis of homology. However, some similarities exist, and this study sets an anatomical framework from which to investigate cellular and molecular mechanisms that will help to distinguish between parallelism, convergence and homology of these features.

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          Most cited references 74

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          Broad phylogenomic sampling improves resolution of the animal tree of life.

          Long-held ideas regarding the evolutionary relationships among animals have recently been upended by sometimes controversial hypotheses based largely on insights from molecular data. These new hypotheses include a clade of moulting animals (Ecdysozoa) and the close relationship of the lophophorates to molluscs and annelids (Lophotrochozoa). Many relationships remain disputed, including those that are required to polarize key features of character evolution, and support for deep nodes is often low. Phylogenomic approaches, which use data from many genes, have shown promise for resolving deep animal relationships, but are hindered by a lack of data from many important groups. Here we report a total of 39.9 Mb of expressed sequence tags from 29 animals belonging to 21 phyla, including 11 phyla previously lacking genomic or expressed-sequence-tag data. Analysed in combination with existing sequences, our data reinforce several previously identified clades that split deeply in the animal tree (including Protostomia, Ecdysozoa and Lophotrochozoa), unambiguously resolve multiple long-standing issues for which there was strong conflicting support in earlier studies with less data (such as velvet worms rather than tardigrades as the sister group of arthropods), and provide molecular support for the monophyly of molluscs, a group long recognized by morphologists. In addition, we find strong support for several new hypotheses. These include a clade that unites annelids (including sipunculans and echiurans) with nemerteans, phoronids and brachiopods, molluscs as sister to that assemblage, and the placement of ctenophores as the earliest diverging extant multicellular animals. A single origin of spiral cleavage (with subsequent losses) is inferred from well-supported nodes. Many relationships between a stable subset of taxa find strong support, and a diminishing number of lineages remain recalcitrant to placement on the tree.
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            Ciliary photoreceptors with a vertebrate-type opsin in an invertebrate brain.

            For vision, insect and vertebrate eyes use rhabdomeric and ciliary photoreceptor cells, respectively. These cells show distinct architecture and transduce the light signal by different phototransductory cascades. In the marine rag-worm Platynereis, we find both cell types: rhabdomeric photoreceptor cells in the eyes and ciliary photoreceptor cells in the brain. The latter use a photopigment closely related to vertebrate rod and cone opsins. Comparative analysis indicates that both types of photoreceptors, with distinct opsins, coexisted in Urbilateria, the last common ancestor of insects and vertebrates, and sheds new light on vertebrate eye evolution.
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              Mechanism of phototaxis in marine zooplankton.

              The simplest animal eyes are eyespots composed of two cells only: a photoreceptor and a shading pigment cell. They resemble Darwin's 'proto-eyes', considered to be the first eyes to appear in animal evolution. Eyespots cannot form images but enable the animal to sense the direction of light. They are characteristic for the zooplankton larvae of marine invertebrates and are thought to mediate larval swimming towards the light. Phototaxis of invertebrate larvae contributes to the vertical migration of marine plankton, which is thought to represent the biggest biomass transport on Earth. Yet, despite its ecological and evolutionary importance, the mechanism by which eyespots regulate phototaxis is poorly understood. Here we show how simple eyespots in marine zooplankton mediate phototactic swimming, using the marine annelid Platynereis dumerilii as a model. We find that the selective illumination of one eyespot changes the beating of adjacent cilia by direct cholinergic innervation resulting in locally reduced water flow. Computer simulations of larval swimming show that these local effects are sufficient to direct the helical swimming trajectories towards the light. The computer model also shows that axial rotation of the larval body is essential for phototaxis and that helical swimming increases the precision of navigation. These results provide, to our knowledge, the first mechanistic understanding of phototaxis in a marine zooplankton larva and show how simple eyespots regulate it. We propose that the underlying direct coupling of light sensing and ciliary locomotor control was a principal feature of the proto-eye and an important landmark in the evolution of animal eyes.

                Author and article information

                Front Zool
                Frontiers in Zoology
                BioMed Central
                28 April 2010
                : 7
                : 12
                [1 ]Smithsonian Marine Station, 701 Seaway Drive, Fort Pierce, Florida, 34949 USA
                [2 ]Current address: Department of Genetics, Evolution and Environment, University College London, Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT, UK
                Copyright ©2010 Rawlinson; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.

                This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


                Animal science & Zoology


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