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Creature Feature

March/April 2002

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Creature Feature

Courtesy Sea Studios Foundation

Your mother is a sponge.

That’s not a strange new epithet, but hard-core science. In an evolutionary sense, your mother is a sponge.

This information comes courtesy of an ambitious television series created by a handful of Stanford scientists and alumni, including Mark Shelley, ’72, Nancy Packard Burnett, ’65, and Stanford lecturer emeritus Charles Baxter. Titled The Shape of Life, the eight-part program airing on PBS this spring chronicles the various ways animals have developed. Sponges, it turns out, gave rise to every creature on earth. According to producer Shelley, new genetic evidence suggests that these multicellular “beautiful blobs” are squarely at the base of all animal life. “Every animal has gone through a sponge ancestor,” he says.

In addition to explaining animal origins, Shelley says, he hopes The Shape of Life will increase awareness of and appreciation for alleged low-lifes such as invertebrates—perhaps in segments like the one about the hunting habits of sea stars or the one in which flatworms engage in penis fencing.

Sea Studios Foundation, founded by Shelley and Burnett, co-produced the series with National Geographic Television.

It airs April 2.

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