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Syst Biol. 1997 Jun;46(2):269-83.

A new nuclear gene for insect phylogenetics: dopa decarboxylase is informative of relationships within Heliothinae (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae).

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Center for Agricultural Biotechnology, University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute, College Park, Maryland 20742, USA.


The lack of a readily accessible roster of nuclear genes informative at various taxonomic levels is a bottleneck for molecular systematics. In this report, we describe the first phylogenetic application of the sequence that encodes the enzyme dopa decarboxylase (DDC). For 14 test species within the noctuid moth subfamily Heliothinae that represent the previously best-supported groupings, a 690-bp fragment of DDC resolved relationships that are largely concordant with prior evidence from elongation factor-1 alpha (EF-1 alpha), morphology, and allozymes. Although both synonymous and nonsynonymous changes occur in DDC substantially more rapidly than they do in EF-1 alpha, DDC divergences within Heliothinae are below saturation at all codon positions. Analysis of DDC and EF-1 alpha in combination resulted in increased bootstrap support for several groupings. As a first estimate of previously unresolved relationships, DDC sequences were analyzed from 16 additional heliothines, for a total of 30 heliothine species plus outgroups. Previous relationships based on DDC were generally stable with increased taxon sampling, although a two- to eightfold downweighting of codon position 3 was required for complete concordance with the 14-species result. The weighted strict consensus trees were largely resolved and were congruent with most although not all previous hypotheses based on either morphology or EF-1 alpha. The proposed phylogeny suggests that the major agricultural pest heliothines belong to a single clade, characterized by polyphagy and associated life history traits, within this largely host-specific moth subfamily. DDC holds much promise for phylogenetic analysis of Tertiary-age animal groups.

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