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Mol Biol Evol. 2009 Jun;26(6):1333-40. doi: 10.1093/molbev/msp042. Epub 2009 Mar 10.

Multiple dicer genes in the early-diverging metazoa.

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Tieraerztliche Hochschule, Division of Ecology and Evolution, Hannover, Germany.


Dicer proteins are highly conserved, are present in organisms ranging from plants to metazoans, and are essential components of the RNA interference pathway. Although the complement of Dicer proteins has been investigated in many "higher" metazoans, there has been no corresponding characterization of Dicer proteins in any early-branching metazoan. We cloned partial cDNAs of genes belonging to the Dicer family from the anthozoan cnidarian Nematostella vectensis and two distantly related haplotypes (species lineages) of the Placozoa (Trichoplax adhaerens 16S haplotype 1 [H1] and Placozoa sp. [H2]). We also identified Dicer genes in the hydrozoan Hydra magnipapillata and the demosponge Amphimedon queenslandica with the use of publicly available sequence databases. Two Dicer genes are present in each cnidarian species, whereas five Dicer genes each are found in the Porifera and Placozoa. Phylogenetic analyses comparing these and other metazoan Dicers suggest an ancient duplication event of a "Proto-Dicer" gene. We show that the Placozoa is the only known metazoan phylum which contains both representatives of this duplication event and that the multiple Dicer genes of the "basal" metazoan phyla represent lineage-specific duplications. There is a striking diversity of Dicer genes in basal metazoans, in stark contrast to the single Dicer gene found in most higher metazoans. This new data has allowed us to formulate new hypotheses regarding the evolution of metazoan Dicer proteins and their possible functions in the early diverging metazoan phyla. We theorize that the multiple placozoan Dicer genes fulfill a specific biological requirement, such as an immune defense strategy against viruses.

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