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Bioessays. 2004 Oct;26(10):1046-57.

The dawn of bilaterian animals: the case of acoelomorph flatworms.

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Departament de Genètica, Facultat de Biologia, Universitat de Barcelona, Diagonal 645, 08028 Barcelona, Spain.


The origin of the bilaterian metazoans from radial ancestors is one of the biggest puzzles in animal evolution. A way to solve it is to identify the nature and main features of the last common ancestor of the bilaterians (LCB). Recent progress in molecular phylogeny has shown that many platyhelminth flatworms, regarded for a long time as basal bilaterians, now belong to the lophotrochozoan protostomates. In contrast, the LCB is now considered a complex organism bearing several features of modern bilaterians. Here we discuss an alternative view, in which acoelomorph (Acoela + Nemertodermatida) flatworms, which do not belong to the Platyhelminthes, represent the earliest extant bilaterian clade. Sequences from ribosomal and other nuclear genes, Hox cluster genes, and reinterpretation of some morphological features strongly support the basal position of acoelomorphs arguing against a complex LCB. This reconstruction backs the old planuloid-acoeloid hypothesis and may help our understanding of the evolution of body axes, Hox genes and the Cambrian explosion.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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