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Mol Phylogenet Evol. 2005 Sep;36(3):581-97. Epub 2005 Apr 19.

The internal transcribed spacer of nuclear ribosomal DNA in the gymnosperm Gnetum.

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  • 1Department of Biology, University of Missouri-St. Louis, St. Louis, MO 63121, USA.


We analyze the structure of the internal transcribed spacers ITS1 and ITS2 of the nuclear ribosomal DNA in the gymnosperm Gnetum, using a phylogenetic framework derived mainly from an intron in the nuclear low-copy LEAFY gene. Gnetum comprises 25-35 species in South America, Africa, and Asia, of which we sampled 16, each with two to six clones. Criteria used to assess ITS functionality were highly divergent nucleotide substitution, GC content, secondary structure, and incongruent phylogenetic placement of presumed paralogs. The length of ITS1 ranged from 225 to 986 bp and that of ITS2 from 259 to 305 bp, the largest ranges so far reported from seed plants. Gnetum ITS1 contains two informative sequence motifs, but different from other gymnosperms, there are only few and short (7-13 bp) tandem repeats. Gnetum ITS2 contains two structural motifs, modified in different clades by shortening of stems and loops. Conspecific sequences grouped together except for two recombinant pseudogenes that had ITS1 of one clade and ITS2 of another. Most of the pseudogenic ITS copies, paralogs, and putative chimeras occurred in a clade that according to a fossil-calibrated chloroplast-DNA clock has an age of a few million years. Based on morphology and chromosome numbers, the most plausible causes of the observed high levels of ITS polymorphism are hybridization, allopolyploidy, and introgression.

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