The Project


Echinodermata includes familiar organisms such as starfish and sea urchins as well as a wide array of extinct forms stretching back to the Cambrian Period.

Echinoderms share a recent common ancestor with other deuterostomes, including chordates, and provide a crucial link to understanding the tree of life as a whole and the history of our species.

However, understanding echinoderm phylogeny presents unique challenges. Whereas echinoderms are bilaterian animals, they have diverged considerably from this form. Most living echinoderms have five-sided symmetry. Moreover, the five living echinoderm classes are only a fraction of the diversity of Echinodermata, with much of echinoderm diversity is known only from fossils.

In recognition of these challenges, we have built a team to consider the fossil and the living echinoderms together. This proposal brings together experts from around the world within paleontology, genomics, informatics, developmental biology, anatomy, and phylogenetics. The team has already assembled large amounts of echinoderm material suitable for morphological analysis and DNA sequencing.

Morphology Working Group: Project details