A non-bilaterian perspective on the development and evolution of animal digestive systems
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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Digestive systems and extracellular digestion are key animal features, but their emergence during early animal evolution is currently poorly understood. As the last common ancestor of non-bilaterian animal groups (sponges, ctenophores, placozoans and cnidarians) dates back to the beginning of animal life, their study and comparison provides important insights into the early evolution of digestive systems and functions. Here, I have compiled an overview of the development and cell biology of digestive tissues in non-bilaterian animals. I will highlight the fundamental differences between extracellular and intracellular digestive processes, and how these are distributed among animals. Cnidarians (e.g. sea anemones, corals, jellyfish), the phylogenetic outgroup of bilaterians (e.g. vertebrates, flies, annelids), occupy a key position to reconstruct the evolution of bilaterian gut evolution. A major focus will therefore lie on the development and cell biology of digestive tissues in cnidarians, especially sea anemones, and how they compare to bilaterian gut tissues. In that context, I will also review how a recent study on the gastrula fate map of the sea anemone Nematostella vectensis challenges our long-standing conceptions on the evolution of cnidarian and bilaterian germ layers and guts.