Author(s): Eitel M, Guidi L, Hadrys H, Balsamo M, Schierwater B
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Abstract Unraveling animal life cycles and embryonic development is basic to understanding animal biology and often sheds light on phylogenetic relationships. A key group for understanding the evolution of the Metazoa is the early branching phylum Placozoa, which has attracted rapidly increasing attention. Despite over a hundred years of placozoan research the life cycle of this enigmatic phylum remains unknown. Placozoa are a unique model system for which the nuclear genome was published before the basic biology (i.e. life cycle and development) has been unraveled. Four organismal studies have reported the development of oocytes and one genetic study has nourished the hypothesis of sexual reproduction in natural populations at least in the past. Here we report new observations on sexual reproduction and embryonic development in the Placozoa and support the hypothesis of current sexual reproduction. The regular observation of oocytes and expressed sperm markers provide support that placozoans reproduce sexually in the field. Using whole genome and EST sequences and additional cDNA cloning we identified five conserved sperm markers, characteristic for different stages in spermatogenesis. We also report details on the embryonic development up to a 128-cell stage and new ultrastructural features occurring during early development. These results suggest that sperm and oocyte generation and maturation occur in different placozoans and that clonal lineages reproduce bisexually in addition to the standard mode of vegetative reproduction. The sum of observations is best congruent with the hypothesis of a simple life cycle with an alternation of reproductive modes between bisexual and vegetative reproduction.
This article was published in PLoS One
and referenced in Biological Systems: Open Access