TLDR: The coelom is the main body cavity in most animals. It surrounds and contains the digestive tract and other organs. It can be lined with a special type of tissue called mesothelium. The coelom has been used to classify different animal groups.
The coelom, pronounced "SEE-luhm," is the main body cavity in most animals. It's like a big empty space inside the body that surrounds and holds the digestive tract and other organs. Think of it as a cozy room where all the important stuff happens. In some animals, the coelom is lined with a special type of tissue called mesothelium, which helps protect and support the organs. But in other animals, like molluscs, the coelom doesn't have this lining and remains undifferentiated.
The word "coelom" comes from the Ancient Greek word "koilía," which means "cavity." So basically, it's just a fancy name for a big empty space inside an animal's body.
The coelom develops during the early stages of an embryo's development. It starts to form during a process called gastrulation, where the developing digestive tube of the embryo forms a blind pouch called the archenteron. In some animals, like protostomes, the coelom forms through a process called schizocoely, where the mesoderm splits into two layers. One layer attaches to the body wall, forming the parietal layer, and the other surrounds the endoderm or alimentary canal, forming the visceral layer. The space between these two layers is the coelom.
In other animals, like deuterostomes, the coelom forms through a process called enterocoely. The archenteron wall produces buds of mesoderm, which hollow out to become the coelomic cavities. Examples of deuterostome coelomates include chordates (like vertebrates), echinoderms (like starfish), and hemichordates (like acorn worms).
The coelom serves several important functions in animals. It can absorb shock and provide a hydrostatic skeleton, which helps with movement. It also supports the immune system by housing special cells called coelomocytes. These cells can either be attached to the coelom wall or float freely in the fluid inside the coelom. The coelom also allows muscles to grow independently of the body wall, which can be seen in the digestive tract of tardigrades (also known as water bears).
The fluid inside the coelom is called coelomic fluid. It circulates through the coelom either by the movement of cilia or by the contraction of muscles in the body wall. This fluid serves several functions, including acting as a hydroskeleton, allowing for the movement and growth of internal organs, transporting gases, nutrients, and waste products throughout the body, storing sperm and eggs during maturation, and acting as a reservoir for waste.
In the past, zoologists used the characteristics of the coelom to classify different animal groups. They grouped animals into three informal categories based on the type of body cavity they possess: Acoelomata, Pseudocoelomata, and Coelomata. However, this classification scheme is no longer widely used or considered a formal classification.
To summarize, the coelom is the main body cavity in most animals. It surrounds and contains the digestive tract and other organs. It can be lined with a special tissue called mesothelium. The coelom has been used to classify different animal groups, but this classification scheme is no longer widely used. The coelom serves important functions like providing support, housing the immune system, and allowing for independent muscle growth. The fluid inside the coelom, called coelomic fluid, has various roles in the body.