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J Mol Evol. 2004 Dec;59(6):834-48.

Complete mitochondrial genome sequences of the South american and the Australian lungfish: testing of the phylogenetic performance of mitochondrial data sets for phylogenetic problems in tetrapod relationships.

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Department of Biology, University of Konstanz, 78457 Konstanz, Germany.


We determined the complete nucleotide sequences (16403 and 16572 base pairs, respectively) of the mitochondrial genomes of the South American lungfish, Lepidosiren paradoxa, and the Australian lungfish, Neoceratodus forsteri (Sarcopterygii, Dipnoi). The mitochondrial DNA sequences were established in an effort to resolve the debated evolutionary positions of the lungfish and the coelacanth relative to land vertebrates. Previous molecular phylogenetic studies based on complete mtDNA sequences, including only the African lungfish, Protopterus dolloi, sequence were able to strongly reject the traditional textbook hypothesis that coelacanths are the closest relatives of land vertebrates. However, these studies were unable to statistically significantly distinguish between the two remaining scenarios: lungfish as the closest relatives to land vertebrates and lungfish and coelacanths jointly as their sister group (Cao et al. 1998; Zardoya et al. 1998; Zardoya and Meyer 1997a). Lungfish, coelacanths, and the fish ancestors of the tetrapod lineage all originated within a short time window of about 20 million years, back in the early Devonian (about 380 to 400 million years ago). This short divergence time makes the determination of the phylogenetic relationships among these three lineages difficult. In this study, we attempted to break the long evolutionary branch of lungfish, in an effort to better resolve the phylogenetic relationships among the three extant sarcopterygian lineages. The gene order of the mitochondrial genomes of the South American and Australian lungfish conforms to the consensus gene order among gnathostome vertebrates. The phylogenetic analyses of the complete set of mitochondrial proteins (without ND6) suggest that the lungfish are the closest relatives of the tetrapods, although the support in favor of this scenario is not statistically significant. The two other smaller data sets (tRNA and rRNA genes) give inconsistent results depending on the different reconstruction methods applied and cannot significantly rule out any of the three alternative hypotheses. Nuclear protein-coding genes, which might be better phylogenetic markers for this question, support the lungfish-tetrapod sister-group relationship (Brinkmann et al. 2004).

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