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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. Jul 19, 1994; 91(15): 6751–6757.

Late Precambrian bilaterians: grades and clades.


A broad variety of body plans and subplans appear during a period of perhaps 8 million years (my) within the Early Cambrian, an unequaled explosion of morphological novelty, the ancestral lineages represented chiefly or entirely by trace fossils. Evidence from the fossil record can be combined with that from molecular phylogenetic trees to suggest that the last common ancestor of (i) protostomes and deuterostomes was a roundish worm with a blood vascular system and (ii) of arthropods and annelids was similar, with a hydrostatic hemocoel; these forms are probably among trace makers of the late Precambrian. Cell-phenotype numbers in living phyla, and a model of cell-phenotype number increase, suggest an origin of metazoans near 600 my ago, followed by a passive rise in body-plan complexity. Living phyla appearing during the Cambrian explosion have a Hox/HOM gene cluster, implying its presence in the common ancestral trace makers. The explosion required a repatterning of gene expression that mediated the development of novel body plans but evidently did not require an important, abrupt increase in genomic or morphologic complexity.

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