Project Info

A combined phylogenomic and palaeontological approach to resolve deep phylogenetic incongruences among Phylum Porifera

The phylogenetic relationships among lower metazoan groups (i.e. diploblast taxa Porifera, Ctenophora, Cnidaria) are still under hot debate and are far from being resolved. Uncertainty also exists about whether poriferans (sponges) are monophyletic or paraphyletic. If the latter turns out to be corroborated, it has significant implications for the evolution of "higher" animals, as it would suggest that the most recent common ancestor of Eumetazoa was similar to an adult sponge. This project will use, for the first time, a combined phylogenomic, bioinformatic and palaeontological approach aiming to resolve phylogenetic incongruences at the base of the metazoan tree and firmly date cladogeneses and first appearances of poriferan clades. We intend to use both current knowledge and newly generated data to attain our objectives in a multidisciplinary five-step process: 1.) acquire new genomic information (i.e. EST and mitogenome sequences) from key poriferan lineages, 2.) identify conserved ortholog markers among our EST sequences, 3.) perform global phylogenomic analyses of existing and new genomic data, and 4.) investigate the Precambrian/Cambrian fossil record of Porifera and integrate results with genomic data to date divergences and calibrate molecular clocks and 5.) perform additional sequencing of major sponge lineages to gain a better understanding of poriferan evolution and morphological/genomic changes necessary for a more complex bilaterian life form.


Prof. Dr. Gert Woerheide, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitat Munchen, Munchen