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Org Divers Evol. 2013 Jun;13(2):267-286.

The Acoela: on their kind and kinships, especially with nemertodermatids and xenoturbellids (Bilateria incertae sedis).

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Department of Genetics, University of Barcelona, Av. Diagonal, edifici annex, planta 2a, 08028 Barcelona, Spain; Department of Evolutionary Developmental Biology, University of Innsbruck, Technikerstrasse 25, 6020 Innsbruck, Austria.


Acoels are among the simplest worms and therefore have often been pivotal in discussions of the origin of the Bilateria. Initially thought primitive because of their "planula-like" morphology, including their lumenless digestive system, they were subsequently dismissed by many morphologists as a specialized clade of the Platyhelminthes. However, since molecular phylogenies placed them outside the Platyhelminthes and outside all other phyla at the base of the Bilateria, they became the focus of renewed debate and research. We review what is currently known of acoels, including information regarding their morphology, development, systematics, and phylogenetic relationships, and put some of these topics in a historical perspective to show how the application of new methods contributed to the progress in understanding these animals. Taking all available data into consideration, clear-cut conclusions cannot be made; however, in our view it becomes successively clearer that acoelomorphs are a "basal" but "divergent" branch of the Bilateria.


Acoelomorpha; Development; Morphology; Phylogeny; Systematics; Xenoturbella

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