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Int J Dev Biol. 2009;53(5-6):733-51. doi: 10.1387/ijdb.072513cj.

The sudden appearance of diverse animal body plansduring the Cambrian explosion.

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Institute of Evo/Developmental Biology, Nanjing University, China.


Beautifully preserved organisms from the Lower Cambrian Maotianshan Shale in central Yunnan, southern China, document the sudden appearance of diverse metazoan body plans at phylum or subphylum levels, which were either short-lived or have continued to the present day. These 530 million year old fossil representatives of living animal groups provide us with unique insight into the foundations of living animal groups at their evolutionary roots. Among these diverse animal groups, many are conservative, changing very little since the Early Cambrian. Others, especially Panarthropoda (superphylum), however, evolved rapidly, with origination of novel body plans representing different evolutionary stages one after another in a very short geological period of Early Cambrian time. These nested body plans portray a novel big picture of pararthropod evolution as a progression of step-wise changes both in the head and the appendages. The evolution of the pararthropods displays how the head/trunk boundary progressively shifted to the posterior, and how the simple annulated soft uniramous appendages progressively changed into stalked eyes in the first head appendages, into whip-like sensorial and grasping organs in the second appendage, and into jointed and biramous bipartite limbs in the post-antennal appendages. Haikouella is one of most remarkable fossils representing the origin body plan of Cristozoa, or crest animals (procraniates+craniates). The anatomy of Early Cambrian crest animals, including Haikouella and Yunnanozoon, contributes to novel understanding and discussion for the origins of the vertebrate brain, neural crest cells, branchial system and vertebrae.

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