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In Search of Vertebrate Origins: Beyond Brain and Bone

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Science  03 Mar 2000:
Vol. 287, Issue 5458, pp. 1576-1579
DOI: 10.1126/science.287.5458.1576

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In the past few years, work in several different disciplines has converged to provide a surprising new picture of the transition from invertebrate to vertebrate, a picture that upsets some previous ideas. Melding genes, neurons, and fossils, this new synthesis suggests that the evolution of the vertebrate brain may have had a surprisingly early start in invertebrate ancestors, long before the evolution of the mineralized skeleton that makes most vertebrates so distinctive. The true innovation that launched the lineage seems to have been new kinds of embryonic tissue, which could form new sensory organs, allowing protovertebrates to embark on a new way to make a living--as predators.