The International Journal of Developmental Biology

Int. J. Dev. Biol. 47: 623 - 632 (2003)

Vol 47, Issue 7-8

Special Issue: Evolution & Development

Who came first--larvae or adults? origins of bilaterian metazoan larvae

Published: 1 December 2003

Belinda J Sly, Margaret S Snoke and Rudolf A Raff

Department of Biology, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana, USA.


There is a classic controversy in zoology over whether the common ancestor of living bilaterian phyla was a benthic animal with a bilaterian body plan, or was a pelagic larva-like animal similar to what we see today in the primary larvae of indirect-developing bilaterians. We examine the current larva-like adult hypothesis, and present an alternate model for the evolution of complex life histories by intercalation of larval features into the ontogeny of an ancestral direct-developing bilaterian. This gradual accumulation of larval features results in a developmental regulatory program that produces a larva distinct in body plan from the adult. The evolution of a rapid and complete metamorphosis is made possible by the convergent evolution of set aside cells in the final stages of the emergence of indirect developing larval forms. Although convergences abound either hypothesis for the evolution of developmental pathways and life histories, the bilaterian first hypothesis is consistent with all stages of evolution of a complex life history being selectively advantageous, with the rapid evolution of larval forms, and with the frequent co-option of genes from the adult phase of the life cycle prevalent in the evolution of embryos and larvae.

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