Animal Origins and the Evolution of Body Plans

In 1822, nearly forty years before Darwin wrote The Origin of Species, a French naturalist, Etienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, was examining a lobster. He noticed that when he turned the lobster upside down and viewed it with its ventral surface up, its central nervous system was located above its digestive tract, which in turn was located above its heart—the same relative positions these systems have in mammals when viewed dorsally. His observations led Geoffroy to conclude that the differences between arthropods (such as lobsters) and vertebrates (such as mammals) could be explained if the embryos of one of those groups were inverted during development.

Geoffroy's suggestion was regarded as preposterous at the time and was largely dismissed until recently. However, the discovery of two genes that influence a system of extracellular signals involved in development has lent new support to Geof-froy's seemingly outrageous hypothesis.

A vertebrate gene called chordin helps to establish cells on one side of the embryo as dorsal and on the other as ventral. A probably homologous gene in fruit flies, called sog, acts in a similar manner, but has the opposite effect. Fly cells where sog is active become ventral, whereas vertebrate cells where chordin is active become dorsal. However, when sog mRNA is injected into an embryo of the frog Xenopus, a vertebrate, it causes dorsal development. Chordin mRNA injected into fruit flies promotes ventral development. In both cases, injection of the mRNA promotes the development of the portion of the embryo that contains the central nervous system!

Chordin and sog are among many genes that regulate similar functions in very different organisms. Such genes are providing evolutionary biologists with information that can help them understand relationships among animal lineages that separated from one another in ancient times. As we saw in Chapter 25, new knowledge about gene functions and gene sequences is increasingly being used to infer evolutionary relationships.

In this chapter, we will apply the methods described in Chapter 25 to infer evolutionary relationships among the animals. First, we will review the defining characteristics of the animal way of life. Then we will describe several lineages of simple animals. Finally, we will describe the lophotro-

Genes that Control Development A

human and a lobster carry similar genes that control the development of the body axis, but these genes position their body systems inversely. A lobster's nervous system runs up its ventral (belly) surface, whereas a vertebrate's runs down its dorsal (back) surface.


chozoans, one of the three great evolutionary lineages of animals. In the next two chapters, we will discuss the other two great animal lineages, the ecdysozoans and the deuterostomes.

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Essentials of Human Physiology

Essentials of Human Physiology

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    How is lobster an upside down vertebrate?
    8 years ago

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