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Move Over Sponges

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A new and comprehensive analysis confirms that the evolutionary relationships among animals are not as simple as previously thought. The traditional idea that animal evolution has followed a trajectory from simple to complex—from sponge to chordate—meets a dramatic exception in the metazoan tree of life. New work suggests that the so-called “lower” metazoans (including Placozoa, corals, and jellyfish) evolved in parallel to “higher” animals (all other metazoans, from flatworms to chordates). It also appears that Placozoans—large amoeba-shaped, multi-cellular animals—have passed over sponges and other organisms as an animal that most closely mirrors the root of this tree of life.

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