A rapid sequencing method for ribosomal RNA was applied to the resolution of evolutionary relationships among Metazoa. Representatives of 22 classes in 10 animal phyla were used to infer phylogenetic relationships, based on evolutionary distances determined from pairwise comparisons of the 18S ribosomal RNA sequences. The classical Eumetazoa are divided into two groups. Cnidarians arose from a protist ancestry different from the second group, the Bilateria. Within the Bilateria, an early split gave rise to Platyhelminthes (flatworms) and the coelomate lineage. Coelomates are thus monophyletic, and they radiated rapidly into four groups: chordates, echinoderms, arthropods, and eucoelomate protostomes.

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