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J Exp Zool B Mol Dev Evol. 2013 Sep;320(6):368-74. doi: 10.1002/jez.b.22510. Epub 2013 May 23.

MicroRNAs support the monophyly of enteropneust hemichordates.

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Department of Biological Sciences, Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH 03755, USA.


Understanding the evolutionary history of deuterostomes requires elucidating the phylogenetic interrelationships amongst the constituent taxa. Although the monophyly and interrelationships among the three principal groups-the chordates, the echinoderms, and the hemichordates-are well established, as are the internal relationships among the echinoderm and chordate taxa, the interrelationships among the principal groups of hemichordates-the harrimaniid enteropneusts, the ptychoderid enteropneusts, and the pterobranchs-remain unresolved. Depending on the study some find enteropneusts paraphyletic with pterobranchs (e.g., Cephalodiscus) more closely related to the harrimaniid enteropneusts (e.g., Saccoglossus) than either are to the ptychoderid enteropneusts (e.g., Ptychodera), whereas other studies support a monophyletic Enteropneusta. To try and resolve between these two competing hypotheses, we turned to microRNAs, small ∼22 nt non-coding RNA genes that have been shown to shed insight into particularly difficult phylogenetic questions. Using deep sequencing we characterized the small RNA repertoires of two hemichordate species, Cephalodiscus hodgsoni and Ptychodera flava, and the crinoid echinoderm Antedon mediterranea, and combined our results with the described complements of the hemichordate Saccoglossus kowalevskii, the sea urchin Strongylocentrotus purpuratus, and the starfish Patiria miniata. Our data unambiguously support the monophyly of Enteropneusts as S. kowalevskii shares 12 miRNA sequences with P. flava that are not present in the C. hodgsoni or A. mediterranea libraries, and have never been reported from another metazoan taxon. Thus, these data resolve the phylogenetic position of pterobranchs, ultimately allowing for a better understanding of body plan evolution throughout the deuterostomes.

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