In order to allow critical evaluation of the interrelationships between the three sponge classes, and to resolve the question of mono- or paraphyly of sponges (Porifera), we used the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) to amplify almost the entire nucleic acid sequence of the 18S rDNA from several hexactinellid, demosponge and calcareous sponge species. The amplification products were cloned, sequenced and then aligned with previously reported sequences from other sponges and nonsponge metazoans and variously distant outgroups, and trees were constructed using both neighbour-joining and maximum parsimony methods. Our results suggest that sponges are paraphyletic, the Calcarea being more related to monophyletic Eumetazoa than to the siliceous sponges (Demospongiae, Hexactinellida). These results have important implications for our understanding of metazoan origins, because they suggest that the common ancestor of Metazoa was a sponge. They also have consequences for basal metazoan classification, implying that the phylum Porifera should be abandoned. Our results support the upgrading of the calcareous sponge class to the phylum level.
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