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Open Access Highly Accessed Commentary

Anaerobic animals from an ancient, anoxic ecological niche

Marek Mentel1 and William Martin2*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Biochemistry, Faculty of Natural Sciences, Comenius University, Mlynská dolina CH-1, 842 15 Bratislava, Slovakia

2 Institute of Botany III, University of Düsseldorf, 40225 Düsseldorf, Germany

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BMC Biology 2010, 8:32  doi:10.1186/1741-7007-8-32

Published: 6 April 2010

Abstract

Tiny marine animals that complete their life cycle in the total absence of light and oxygen are reported by Roberto Danovaro and colleagues in this issue of BMC Biology. These fascinating animals are new members of the phylum Loricifera and possess mitochondria that in electron micrographs look very much like hydrogenosomes, the H2-producing mitochondria found among several unicellular eukaryotic lineages. The discovery of metazoan life in a permanently anoxic and sulphidic environment provides a glimpse of what a good part of Earth's past ecology might have been like in 'Canfield oceans', before the rise of deep marine oxygen levels and the appearance of the first large animals in the fossil record roughly 550-600 million years ago. The findings underscore the evolutionary significance of anaerobic deep sea environments and the anaerobic lifestyle among mitochondrion-bearing cells. They also testify that a fuller understanding of eukaryotic and metazoan evolution will come from the study of modern anoxic and hypoxic habitats.