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J Hered. 1992 May-Jun;83(3):174-81.

The molecular taxonomy and evolution of the guinea pig.

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  • 1Center for Demographic and Population Genetics, University of Texas, Houston 77225.


On the basis of 18 protein sequences totaling 2,413 aligned amino acid sites, it is suggested that the guinea pigs and the myomorphs (rat-like rodents) are not monophyletic. Rather, the evolutionary lineage leading to the guinea pig seems to have branched off prior to the divergence among myomorphs, lagomorphs, primates, chiropterans, artiodactyls, and carnivores. It is suggested therefore that the Caviomorpha (guinea pig-like rodents) and possibly the Hystricomorpha (porcupine-like rodents) should be elevated in taxonomic rank and conferred an ordinal status distinct from the Rodentia. This suggestion calls for a reevaluation of the morphological evolution of guinea pigs and further molecular studies on the possibility of paraphyly of the order Rodentia. If the monophyly of rodents holds, it must be concluded that the pattern of molecular evolution in many guinea pig genes has been extremely unusual and that the causes for this pattern should be sought. It is also suggested that claims of large differences in the rate of molecular evolution between guinea pigs and myomorphs may have been exaggerated in many cases as a result of an erroneous phylogenetic position for the guinea pig. The average rate of amino acid replacement in the guinea pig seems to be comparable to that in the rat and the mouse. However, the data indicate that myomorph and caviomorph genes evolve, on average, about two times faster than their human counterparts. Finally, our analysis provides evidence against the hypothesis that the gundi (an African rodent) represents the most ancient rodent lineage.

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