Spiralian phylogeny informs the evolution of microscopic lineages

Curr Biol. 2015 Aug 3;25(15):2000-6. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2015.06.068. Epub 2015 Jul 23.


Despite rapid advances in the study of metazoan evolutionary history [1], phylogenomic analyses have so far neglected a number of microscopic lineages that possess a unique combination of characters and are thus informative for our understanding of morphological evolution. Chief among these lineages are the recently described animal groups Micrognathozoa and Loricifera, as well as the two interstitial "Problematica" Diurodrilus and Lobatocerebrum [2]. These genera show a certain resemblance to Annelida in their cuticle and gut [3, 4]; however, both lack primary annelid characters such as segmentation and chaetae [5]. Moreover, they show unique features such as an inverted body-wall musculature or a novel pharyngeal organ. This and their ciliated epidermis have led some to propose relationships with other microscopic spiralians, namely Platyhelminthes, Gastrotricha, and in the case of Diurodrilus, with Micrognathozoa [6, 7]-lineages that are grouped by some analyses into "Platyzoa," a clade whose status remains uncertain [1, 8-11]. Here, we assess the interrelationships among the meiofaunal and macrofaunal members of Spiralia using 402 orthologs mined from genome and transcriptome assemblies of 90 taxa. Lobatocerebrum and Diurodrilus are found to be deeply nested members of Annelida, and unequivocal support is found for Micrognathozoa as the sister group of Rotifera. Analyses using site-heterogeneous substitution models further recover a lophophorate clade and position Loricifera + Priapulida as sister group to the remaining Ecdysozoa. Finally, with several meiofaunal lineages branching off early in the diversification of Spiralia, the emerging concept of a microscopic, acoelomate, direct-developing ancestor of Spiralia is reviewed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Invertebrates / anatomy & histology
  • Invertebrates / classification*
  • Invertebrates / genetics*
  • Phylogeny*
  • Rotifera / anatomy & histology
  • Rotifera / classification
  • Rotifera / genetics