Concatenated analysis sheds light on early metazoan evolution and fuels a modern "urmetazoon" hypothesis.
For more than a century, the origin of metazoan animals has been debated. One aspect of this debate has been centered on what the hypothetical "urmetazoon" bauplan might have been. The morphologically most simply organized metazoan animal, the placozoan Trichoplax adhaerens, resembles an intriguing model for one of several "urmetazoon" hypotheses: the placula hypothesis. Clear support for a basal position of Placozoa would aid in resolving several key issues of metazoan-specific inventions (including, for example, head-foot axis, symmetry, and coelom) and would determine a root for unraveling their evolution. Unfortunately, the phylogenetic relationships at the base of Metazoa have been controversial because of conflicting phylogenetic scenarios generated while addressing the question. Here, we analyze the sum of morphological evidence, the secondary structure of mitochondrial ribosomal genes, and molecular sequence data from mitochondrial and nuclear genes that amass over 9,400 phylogenetically informative characters from 24 to 73 taxa. Together with mitochondrial DNA genome structure and sequence analyses and Hox-like gene expression patterns, these data (1) provide evidence that Placozoa are basal relative to all other diploblast phyla and (2) spark a modernized "urmetazoon" hypothesis.