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Temporal range: Ediacaran - Recent
A centipede (Ecdysozoa)
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Subkingdom: Eumetazoa
Clade: Bilateria
Clade: Nephrozoa
(unranked): Protostomia
Grobben, 1908

Protostomia (from Greek πρωτο- proto- "first" and στόμα stoma "mouth") is a clade of animals. Together with the deuterostomes and xenacoelomorpha, its members make up the Bilateria, mostly comprising animals with bilateral symmetry and three germ layers.[1] The major distinctions between deuterostomes and protostomes are found in embryonic development: most (but, confusingly, not all)[2][3] protostomes undergo protostomy, whereas most deuterostomes undergo deuterostomy.

Protostomes and deuterostomes apparently evolved from a wormlike common ancestor about 600 million years ago.



In animals at least as complex as earthworms, the embryo forms a dent on one side, the blastopore, which deepens to become the archenteron, the first phase in the growth of the gut. In deuterostomes, the original dent becomes the anus while the gut eventually tunnels through to make another opening, which forms the mouth. The protostomes were so named because it used to be thought that in their embryos the dent formed the mouth while the anus was formed later, at the opening made by the other end of the gut.

Other significant differences between protostome and deuterostome patterns of development include:

  • Most protostomes are schizocoelomates, meaning a solid mass of the embryonic mesoderm splits to form a coelom. A few, such as Priapulids, have no coelom, but they may have descended from schizocoelomate ancestors. On the other hand, all known deuterostomes are enterocoelous, meaning that the coelom is formed from longitudinal pouches of the archenteron which then become separate cavities.
  • Within the protostomes, some phyla undergo spiral cleavage which is determinate, meaning that the fate of the cells is determined as they are formed. This is in contrast to deuterostomes, which have radial cleavage that is indeterminate.

Current molecular data suggest that protostome animals can be divided into the major groups:

as well as minor taxa of basal or ambiguous affinity, namely the Chaetognatha.


The common ancestor of protostomes and deuterostomes was evidently a wormlike aquatic animal. The two clades diverged about 600 million years ago. Protostomes evolved into over a million species alive today, compared to about 60,000 deuterostome species.[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hejnol, A., Obst, M., Stamatakis, A., Ott, M., Rouse, G. W., Edgecombe, G. D., et al. (2009). Assessing the root of bilaterian animals with scalable phylogenomic methods. Proceedings of the Royal Society, Series B, 276, 4261–4270.
  2. ^ A. Hejnol M. Q. Martindale. "The mouth, the anus, and the blastopore - open questions about questionable openings". In M. J. Telford; D. T. J. Littlewood. Animal Evolution — Genomes, Fossils, and Trees. pp. 33–40. 
  3. ^ Martín-Durán, José M.; Passamaneck, Yale J.; Martindale, Mark Q.; Hejnol, Andreas (2016). "The developmental basis for the recurrent evolution of deuterostomy and protostomy". Nature Ecology & Evolution. 1: 0005. doi:10.1038/s41559-016-0005. 
  4. ^ Dawkins, Richard. The ancestor’s tale. Boston. Mariner Books. 2004. p. 377–386