Xenoturbella is a group of marine benthic animals lacking an anus and a centralized nervous system. Molecular phylogenetic analyses group the animal together with the Acoelomorpha, forming the Xenacoelomorpha. This group has been suggested to be either a sister group to the Nephrozoa or a deuterostome, and therefore it may provide important insights into origins of bilaterian traits such as an anus, the nephron, feeding larvae and centralized nervous systems. However, only five Xenoturbella species have been reported and the evolutionary history of xenoturbellids and Xenacoelomorpha remains obscure.Here we describe a new Xenoturbella species from the western Pacific Ocean, and report a new xenoturbellid structure - the frontal pore. Non-destructive microCT was used to investigate the internal morphology of this soft-bodied animal. This revealed the presence of a frontal pore that is continuous with the ventral glandular network and which exhibits similarities with the frontal organ in acoelomorphs.Our results suggest that large size, oval mouth, frontal pore and ventral glandular network may be ancestral features for Xenoturbella. Further studies will clarify the evolutionary relationship of the frontal pore and ventral glandular network of xenoturbellids and the acoelomorph frontal organ. One of the habitats of the newly identified species is easily accessible from a marine station and so this species promises to be valuable for research on bilaterian and deuterostome evolution.
Journal: BMC evolutionary biology