Friday, February 10, 2012

Phylum Placozoa

The placozoan: Trichoplax adhaerens.
There really isn't much to say about Phylum Placozoa. The phylum name is derived from the Greek for "flat plate animal," which is probably one of the best ways to describe these simple creatures. It currently consists of only one species, though the genetic diversity of that species is so great that it may very well be several. The species was first discovered in 1883, but, as is so often the case in Biology, it's a rather harmless species and thus is not well studied. These animals prefer marine habitats with shallow water, but they have also been found in aquariums. They are unusual among the animals due to being asymmetrical.

The body has only two layers of cells and there is no nervous system, digestive system, or even a body cavity. As with sponges, placozoans are able to reform into a single individual after being split apart. They are quite mobile and move not unlike an amoeba, even able to readily change shape. The largest individuals were produced in laboratories and are only a few millimeters across, while wild individuals are significantly smaller. As I already mentioned, there are only two cell layers. The ventral layer (i.e. the bottom layer) is flagellated and also contains cells that excrete digestive enzymes onto its food, which is then absorbed into the cells. This animal is so poorly studied that scientists have only guessed at its preferred diet: "it sits atop the algae and protozoans on which it apparently feeds." The dorsal layer (i.e. the upper layer) is thin and has only a few flagella. Placozoans reproduce asexually with ease, and do so regularly when under observation. Though sexual reproduction has occurred in a laboratory setting, very little is known about the process and the offspring produced have never developed past the sixty-four cell stage.

As for how these strange animals relate to other animals, it's difficult to say. Studies have variously supported and rejected placing them as basal or "primitive" animals, as a relative of sponges, and as a sort of simplified cnidarian. This is despite several different forms of DNA analysis.

Sources are Biology of the Invertebrates, University of California Museum of Paleontology, and Science 2.0. Image is from Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license.

No comments:

Post a Comment