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BMC Genomics. 2008 Jan 23;9:33. doi: 10.1186/1471-2164-9-33.

The mitochondrial genome of the hexactinellid sponge Aphrocallistes vastus: evidence for programmed translational frameshifting.

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  • 1Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology, Yale University, New Haven, CT 06520-8104, USA.



Mitochondrial genomes (mtDNA) of numerous sponges have been sequenced as part of an ongoing effort to resolve the class-level phylogeny of the Porifera, as well as to place the various lower metazoan groups on the animal-kingdom tree. Most recently, the partial mtDNA of two glass sponges, class Hexactinellida, were reported. While previous phylogenetic estimations based on these data remain uncertain due to insufficient taxon sampling and accelerated rates of evolution, the mtDNA molecules themselves reveal interesting traits that may be unique to hexactinellids. Here we determined the first complete mitochondrial genome of a hexactinellid sponge, Aphrocallistes vastus, and compared it to published poriferan mtDNAs to further describe characteristics specific to hexactinellid and other sponge mitochondrial genomes.


The A. vastus mtDNA consisted of a 17,427 base pair circular molecule containing thirteen protein-coding genes, divergent large and small subunit ribosomal RNAs, and a reduced set of 18 tRNAs. The A. vastus mtDNA showed a typical hexactinellid nucleotide composition and shared a large synteny with the other sequenced glass sponge mtDNAs. It also contained an unidentified open reading frame and large intergenic space region. Two frameshifts, in the cox3 and nad6 genes, were not corrected by RNA editing, but rather possessed identical shift sites marked by the extremely rare tryptophan codon (UGG) followed by the common glycine codon (GGA) in the +1 frame.


Hexactinellid mtDNAs have shown similar trends in gene content, nucleotide composition, and codon usage, and have retained a large gene syntenty. Analysis of the mtDNA of A. vastus has provided evidence diagnostic for +1 programmed translational frameshifting, a phenomenon disparately reported throughout the animal kingdom, but present in the hexactinellid mtDNAs that have been sequenced to date.

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