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The Evolution of Life

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Vertebrates are an essential form of life of which the majority are characterised by the presence of a backbone in addition to evolving from a frequent ancestor. “Their origin has been a subject of extreme debate since the formative years of evolutionary research. It has, however, been established with years of lookup that terrestrial vertebrates emerged from fish in the Late Devonian period. An important note in this regard is that the first acknowledged fossils of vertebrates (not necessarily terrestrial) date back to the early Cambrian period. This is considered as one of the most significant events in evolution, and it was associated with rapid diversification. After the emergence, the early vertebrate forms continued to evolve with the differentiation of the ancestors of modern forms such as mammals, amphibians, reptiles, and birds by the mid- to Late Carboniferous (Carroll, 2001).

With over 99 percent of all living vertebrates falling under the subgroup of jawed vertebrates, a look at the inherent characteristics of this subgroup could highlight the impact of the emergence of vertebrates on the development of life. Salient features such as “teeth, jaws, a mineralized internal skeleton, a backbone, trunk, and appendages” (Donoghue & Purnell, 2009) are characteristic of these life forms. Vertebrates were essentially an improved life form which is especially the case when compared to invertebrate relatives. Features such as “distinct anatomical head with a distinct brain, paired sensory organs, and a variety of specialized cell types” (Donoghue & Purnell, 2009) are indicative of a more sophisticated life form. The mentioned characteristics enabled life forms to interact better with not only their surroundings but also other life forms.


Carroll, R.L. (2001). The origin and early radiation of terrestrial vertebrates. Journal of Paleontology, 75(6): 1202-1213.

Donoghue, P.C.J., & Purnell, M.A. (2009). The evolutionary emergence of vertebrates from among their spineless relatives. Evo Edu Outreach, 2: 204-212.

Kouchinsky, A., Bengtson S., Runnegar, B., Skovsted, C., Steiner, M., & Vendrasco, M. (2012). Chronology of early Cambrian biomineralization. Geol. Mag., 149(2): 221-251.

July 24, 2021


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