Stiftung Tierärztliche Hochschule Hannover (TiHo)TiHo eLib

Phylogenomics and the first higher taxonomy of Placozoa, an ancient and enigmatic animal phylum

Placozoa is an ancient phylum of extraordinarily unusual animals: miniscule, ameboid creatures that lack most fundamental animal features. Despite high genetic diversity, only recently have the second and third species been named. While prior genomic studies suffer from incomplete placozoan taxon sampling, we more than double the count with protein sequences from seven key genomes and produce the first nuclear phylogenomic reconstruction of all major placozoan lineages. This leads us to the first complete Linnaean taxonomic classification of Placozoa, over a century after its discovery: This may be the only time in the 21st century when an entire higher taxonomy for a whole animal phylum is formalized. Our classification establishes 2 new classes, 4 new orders, 3 new families, 1 new genus, and 1 new species, namely classes Polyplacotomia and Uniplacotomia; orders Polyplacotomea, Trichoplacea, Cladhexea, and Hoilungea; families Polyplacotomidae, Cladtertiidae, and Hoilungidae; and genus Cladtertia with species Cladtertia collaboinventa, nov. Our likelihood and gene content tree topologies refine the relationships determined in previous studies. Adding morphological data into our phylogenomic matrices suggests sponges (Porifera) as the sister to other animals, indicating that modest data addition shifts this node away from comb jellies (Ctenophora). Furthermore, by adding the first genomic protein data of the exceptionally distinct and branching Polyplacotoma mediterranea, we solidify its position as sister to all other placozoans; a divergence we estimate to be over 400 million years old. Yet even this deep split sits on a long branch to other animals, suggesting a bottleneck event followed by diversification. Ancestral state reconstructions indicate large shifts in gene content within Placozoa, with Hoilungia hongkongensis and its closest relatives having the most unique genetics.


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