Comb Jellies (Ctenophora): A Model for Basal Metazoan Evolution and Development
Kevin Pang and Mark Q. Martindale
Ctenophores, or comb jellies, are a group of marine organisms whose unique biological features and phylogenetic placement make them a key taxon for understanding animal evolution. These gelatinous creatures are clearly distinct from cnidarian medusae (i.e., jellyfish). Key features present in the ctenophore body plan include biradial symmetry, an oral-aboral axis delimited by a mouth and an apical sensory organ, two tentacles, eight comb rows composed of interconnected cilia, and thick mesoglea. Other morphological features include definitive muscle cells, a nerve net, basal lamina, a sperm acrosome, and light-producing photocytes. Aspects of their development made them attractive to experimental embryologists as early as the 19th century. Recently, because of their role as an invasive species, studies on their role in ecology and fisheries-related fields have increased. Although the phylogenetic placement of ctenophores with respect to other animals has proven difficult, it is clear that, along with poriferans, placozoans, and cnidarians, ctenophores are one of the earliest diverging extant animal groups. It is important to determine if some of the complex features of ctenophores are examples of convergence or if they were lost in other animal branches. Because ctenophores are amenable to modern technical approaches, they could prove to be a highly useful emerging model.