DEGNAN, S.M.*; DEGNAN, B.M.; University of Queensland, Australia; University of Queensland, Australia: The origin of the metazoan biphasic life cycle: new insights from an ancient phylum.
The biphasic life cycle, characterised by metamorphosis from a pelagic larva to a benthic adult, is found throughout the Metazoa. So is sexual reproduction via eggs and sperm. Amidst a tangled web of hypotheses on the origin of metazoan biphasy, current weight of opinion lies with a simple, larva-like holopelagic ancestor that independently settled multiple times to incorporate a benthic phase into the life cycle. This school of thought derives from Haeckel's interpretation of the gastrula as the recapitulation of a gastrean ancestor that evolved via selection on a simple, planktonic hollow ball-of-cells to develop the capacity to feed. We suggest that a paradigm shift is required to accomodate accumulating evidence of the genomic and developmental complexity of the metazoan last common ancestor, which was likely to have already possessed a biphasic lifecycle. Here we incorporate recent evidence from basal metazoans, in particular poriferans, to argue that a more parsimonious theory of the origin of biphasy is as a direct consequence of sexual reproduction in an ancestral benthic adult form. The metazoan embryo can itself be considered the precursor to a biphasic life cycle, wherein the embryo represents one phase and the adult another. Embryos in the water column are subject to natural selection for longeveity and dispersal, which sets them on the evolutionary trajectory towards the crown metazoan planktonic larvae. This alternate view considers the conserved use of regulatory genes in disparate metazoans as a reflection of both the complexity of the LCA and the antiquity of the biphasic life cycle. It does not require that extant embryogenesis, including gastrulation, recapitulates evolution.