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Mol Biol Evol. 2002 Mar;19(3):289-301.

Testing the new animal phylogeny: first use of combined large-subunit and small-subunit rRNA gene sequences to classify the protostomes.

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School of Biological Sciences, Washington State University, Pullman, WA 99164-4236, USA.


Although the small-subunit ribosomal RNA (SSU rRNA) gene is widely used in the molecular systematics, few large-subunit (LSU) rRNA gene sequences are known from protostome animals, and the value of the LSU gene for invertebrate systematics has not been explored. The goal of this study is to test whether combined LSU and SSU rRNA gene sequences support the division of protostomes into Ecdysozoa (molting forms) and Lophotrochozoa, as was proposed by Aguinaldo et al. (1997) (Nature 387:489) based on SSU rRNA sequences alone. Nearly complete LSU gene sequences were obtained, and combined LSU + SSU sequences were assembled, for 15 distantly related protostome taxa plus five deuterostome outgroups. When the aligned LSU + SSU sequences were analyzed by tree-building methods (minimum evolution analysis of LogDet-transformed distances, maximum likelihood, and maximum parsimony) and by spectral analysis of LogDet distances, both Ecdysozoa and Lophotrochozoa were indeed strongly supported (e.g., bootstrap values >90%), with higher support than from the SSU sequences alone. Furthermore, with the LogDet-based methods, the LSU + SSU sequences resolved some accepted subgroups within Ecdysozoa and Lophotrochozoa (e.g., the polychaete sequence grouped with the echiuran, and the annelid sequences grouped with the mollusc and lophophorates)-subgroups that SSU-based studies do not reveal. Also, the mollusc sequence grouped with the sequences from lophophorates (brachiopod and phoronid). Like SSU sequences, our LSU + SSU sequences contradict older hypotheses that grouped annelids with arthropods as Articulata, that said flatworms and nematodes were basal bilateralians, and considered lophophorates, nemerteans, and chaetognaths to be deuterostomes. The position of chaetognaths within protostomes remains uncertain: our chaetognath sequence associated with that of an onychophoran, but this was unstable and probably artifactual. Finally, the benefits of combining LSU with SSU sequences for phylogenetic analyses are discussed: LSU adds signal, it can be used at lower taxonomic levels, and its core region is easy to align across distant taxa-but its base frequencies tend to be nonstationary across such taxa. We conclude that molecular systematists should use combined LSU + SSU rRNA genes rather than SSU alone.

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