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Int J Biochem Cell Biol. 2009 Feb;41(2):370-9. doi: 10.1016/j.biocel.2008.09.023. Epub 2008 Oct 2.

Placozoa and the evolution of Metazoa and intrasomatic cell differentiation.

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Ecology and Evolution, Tierärztliche Hochschule Hannover, D-30559 Hannover, Germany.


The multicellular Metazoa evolved from single-celled organisms (Protozoa) and usually - but not necessarily - consist of more cells than Protozoa. In all cases, and thus by definition, Metazoa possess more than one somatic cell type, i.e. they show-in sharp contrast to protists-intrasomatic differentiation. Placozoa have the lowest degree of intrasomatic variation; the number of somatic cell types according to text books is four (but see also Jakob W, Sagasser S, Dellaporta S, Holland P, Kuhn K, and Schierwater B. The Trox-2 Hox/ParaHox gene of Trichoplax (Placozoa) marks an epithelial boundary. Dev Genes Evol 2004;214:170-5). For this and several other reasons Placozoa have been regarded by many as the most basal metazoan phylum. Thus, the morphologically most simply organized metazoan animal, the placozoan Trichoplax adhaerens, resembles a unique model system for cell differentiation studies and also an intriguing model for a prominent "urmetazoon" hypotheses-the placula hypothesis. A basal position of Placozoa would provide answers to several key issues of metazoan-specific inventions (including for example different lines of somatic cell differentiation leading to organ development and axis formation) and would determine a root for unraveling their evolution. However, the phylogenetic relationships at the base of Metazoa are controversial and a basal position of Placozoa is not generally accepted (e.g. Schierwater B, DeSalle R. Can we ever identify the Urmetazoan? Integr Comp Biol 2007;47:670-76; DeSalle R, Schierwater B. An even "newer" animal phylogeny. Bioessays 2008;30:1043-47). Here we review and discuss (i) long-standing morphological evidence for the simple placozoan bauplan resembling an ancestral metazoan stage, (ii) some rapidly changing alternative hypotheses derived from molecular analyses, (iii) the surprising idea that triploblasts (Bilateria) and diploblasts may be sister groups, and (iv) the presence of genes involved in cell differentiation and signaling pathways in the placozoan genome.

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