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Mol Biol Evol. 2011 Dec;28(12):3237-52. doi: 10.1093/molbev/msr148. Epub 2011 Jun 16.

Multiple genome alignments facilitate development of NPCL markers: a case study of tetrapod phylogeny focusing on the position of turtles.

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  • 1State Key Laboratory of Biocontrol, Key Laboratory of Gene Engineering of the Ministry of Education, School of Life Sciences, Sun Yat-Sen University, Guangzhou, People's Republic of China.


In recent years, the increasing availability of genomic resources has provided an opportunity to develop phylogenetic markers for phylogenomics. Efficient methods to search for candidate markers from the huge number of genes within genomic data are particularly needed in the era of phylogenomics. Here, rather than using the traditional approach of comparing genomes of two distantly related taxa to develop conserved primers, we take advantage of the multiple genome alignment resources from the the University of California-San Cruz Genome Browser and present a simple and straightforward bioinformatic approach to automatically screen for candidate nuclear protein-coding locus (NPCL) markers. We tested our protocol in tetrapods and successfully obtained 21 new NPCL markers with high success rates of polymerase chain reaction amplification (mostly over 80%) in 16 diverse tetrapod taxa. These 21 newly developed markers together with two reference genes (RAG1 and mitochondrial 12S-16S) are used to infer the higher level relationships of tetrapods, with emphasis on the debated position of turtles. Both maximum likelihood (ML) and Bayesian analyses on the concatenated data combining the 23 markers (21,137 bp) yield the same tree, with ML bootstrap values over 95% and Bayesian posterior probability equaling 1.0 for most nodes. Species tree estimation using the program BEST without data concatenation produces similar results. In all analyses, turtles are robustly recovered as the sister group of Archosauria (birds and crocodilians). The jackknife analysis on the concatenated data showed that the minimum sequence length needed to robustly resolve the position of turtles is 13-14 kb. Based on the large 23-gene data set and the well-resolved tree, we also estimated evolutionary timescales for tetrapods with the popular Bayesian method MultiDivTime. Most of the estimated ages among tetrapods are similar to the average estimates of the previous dating studies summarized by the book The Timetree of Life.

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