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Mol Biol Evol. 1997 May;14(5):485-97.

Are the Platyhelminthes a monophyletic primitive group? An assessment using 18S rDNA sequences.

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  • 1Departament de Genètica, Facultat de Biologia, Universitat de Barcelona, Spain.


In most zoological textbooks, Platyhelminthes are depicted as an early-emerging clade forming the likely sister group of all the other Bilateria. Other phylogenetic proposals see them either as the sister group of most of the Protostomia or as a group derived from protostome coelomate ancestors by progenesis. The main difficulty in their correct phylogenetic placing is the lack of convincing synapomorphies for all Platyhelminthes, which may indicate that they are polyphyletic. Moreover, their internal phylogenetic relationships are still uncertain. To test these hypotheses, new complete 18S rDNA sequences from 13 species of "Turbellaria" have been obtained and compared to published sequences of 2 other "Turbellaria," 3 species of parasitic Platyhelminthes, and several diploblastic and deuterostome and protostome triploblastics. Maximum-parsimony, maximum-likelihood, and neighbor-joining methods were used to infer their phylogeny. The results show the order Catenulida to form an independent early-branching clade and emerge as a potential sister group of the rest of the Bilateria, while the rest of Platyhelminthes (Rhabditophora), which includes the parasites, form a clear monophyletic group closely related to the protostomes. The order Acoela, morphologically considered as candidates to be ancestral, are shown to be fast-clock organisms for the 18S rDNA gene. Hence, long-branching of acoels and insufficient sampling of catenulids and acoels leave their position still unresolved and call for further studies. Within the Rhabditophora, our analyses suggest (1) a close relationship between orders Macrostomida and Polycladida, forming a clear sister group to the rest of orders; (2) that parasitic platyhelminthes appeared early in the evolution of the group and form a sister group to a still-unresolved clade made by Nemertodermatida, Lecithoepitheliata, Prolecithophora, Proseriata, Tricladida, and Rhabdocoela; and (3) that Seriata is paraphyletic.

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