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Zoological Lett. 2015 Jul 24;1:22. doi: 10.1186/s40851-015-0018-z. eCollection 2015.

What is Xenoturbella?

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1
Shimoda Marine Research Center, University of Tsukuba, 5-10-1, Shimoda, Shizuoka, 415-0025 Japan.

Abstract

Xenoturbella is a strange marine worm that can be collected regularly only off the west coast of Sweden. Due to its simple morphology, which lacks a centralized nervous system, coelom, anus, or reproductive organs, its phylogenetic position has long remained obscure. Recent phylogenomic analyses suggest it forms a new phylum, Xenacoelomorpha, together with the Acoelomorpha, but the position of the phylum remains undecided, either as a deuterostome or an early branching bilaterian. Developmental stages exhibit many phylogenetically decisive characters in various animal species, but have remained a mystery for Xenoturbella until recently. Observations of its development showed it has direct development with a very short and simple swimming stage, and that it lacks a feeding larva. Asexual reproduction has never been reported. It has been suggested that Xenoturbella feeds specifically on bivalves, but it still remains unknown whether it feeds on sperm, eggs, larvae, juveniles, carcass, mucus, or feces of bivalves, and direct observations of Xenoturbella feeding on bivalves have not been reported. Endosymbiont bacteria have been found, and their functions are being investigated. The evolutionary scenario of this taxon remains the subject of debate, and our understanding will depend largely on determining its phylogeny. Thus, although recent studies have uncovered many new and crucial facts regarding Xenoturbella, some fundamental biological information, such as phylogeny, complete life cycle, and genome, remain unsolved. Further research on the well-studied Swedish Xenoturbella bocki, as well as the discovery of new species elsewhere, are necessary if we are to more fully understand the nature of Xenoturbella.

KEYWORDS:

Acoelomorpha; Bilateria; Deuterostome; Development; Evolution; Larva; Metazoa; Phylogeny; Xenacoelomorpha; Xenoturbella

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