Research Articles

Molecular Evidence for Deep Precambrian Divergences Among Metazoan Phyla

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Science  25 Oct 1996:
Vol. 274, Issue 5287, pp. 568-573
DOI: 10.1126/science.274.5287.568


A literal reading of the fossil record suggests that the animal phyla diverged in an “explosion” near the beginning of the Cambrian period. Calibrated rates of molecular sequence divergence were used to test this hypothesis. Seven independent data sets suggest that invertebrates diverged from chordates about a billion years ago, about twice as long ago as the Cambrian. Protostomes apparently diverged from chordates well before echinoderms, which suggests a prolonged radiation of animal phyla. These conclusions apply specifically to divergence times among phyla; the morphological features that characterize modern animal body plans, such as skeletons and coeloms, may have evolved later.