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BMC Genomics. 2006 Nov 6;7:284.

The complete mitochondrial genome of the sea spider Nymphon gracile (Arthropoda: Pycnogonida).

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Department of Animal Systematics and Evolution, Institute of Biology, Freie Universität Berlin, Konigin-Luise-Str, 1-3, D-14195 Berlin, Germany.



Mitochondrial genomes form units of genetic information replicating indepentently from nuclear genomes. Sequence data (most often from protein-coding genes) and other features (gene order, RNA secondary structure) of mitochondrial genomes are often used in phylogenetic studies of metazoan animals from population to phylum level. Pycnogonids are primarily marine arthropods, often considered closely related to chelicerates (spiders, scorpions and allies). However, due to their aberrant morphology and to controversial results from molecular studies, their phylogenetic position is still under debate.


This is the first report of a complete mitochondrial genome sequence from a sea spider (Nymphon gracile, class Pycnogonida). Gene order derives from that of other arthropods so that presumably 10 single tRNA gene translocations, a translocation of the mitochondrial control region, and one large inversion affecting protein-coding genes must have happened in the lineage leading to Nymphon gracile. Some of the changes in gene order seem not to be common to all pycnogonids, as those were not found in a partial mitochondrial genome of another species, Endeis spinosa. Four transfer RNAs of Nymphon gracile show derivations from the usual cloverleaf secondary structure (truncation or loss of an arm). Initial phylogenetic analyses using mitochondrial protein-coding gene sequences placed Pycnogonida as sister group to Acari. However, this is in contrast to the majority of all other studies using nuclear genes and/or morphology and was not recovered in a second analysis where two long-branching acarid species were omitted.


Extensive gene rearrangement characterizes the mitochondrial genome of Nymphon gracile. At least some of the events leading to this derived gene order happened after the split of pycnogonid subtaxa. Nucleotide and amino acid frequencies show strong differences between chelicerate taxa, presumably biasing phylogenetic analyses. Thus the affinities between Pycnogonida and Acari (mites and ticks), as found in phylogenetic analyses using mitochondrial genes, may rather be due to long-branch attraction and independently derived nucleotide composition and amino acid frequency, than to a real sister group relationship.

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