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Mol Biol Evol. 1994 May;11(3):329-40.

Evolution of the WANCY region in amniote mitochondrial DNA.

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Département de Biochimie, Université de Montréal, Québec, Canada.


In most vertebrate mitochondrial genomes, the site for initiation of light-strand replication, OL, is found within a cluster of five transfer RNA (tRNA) genes (tRNA(Trp), tRNA(Ala), tRNA(Asn), tRNA(Cys), and tRNA(Tyr)). This region and part of the adjacent cytochrome c oxydase subunit I (COI) gene were sequenced for two crocodilian, two turtle, and one snake species and for Sphenodon punctatus; part of the adjacent nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide dehydrogenase subunit 2 (ND2) gene was also sequenced for the crocodilian and turtle species. All had the typical vertebrate gene order. The turtles and the snake have a lengthy noncoding sequence between the tRNA(Asn) and tRNA(Cys) genes that we assumed to be homologous to the mammalian OL. The crocodilians and Sphenodon lack such a sequence, a condition they share with birds. Most proposed phylogenies for the amniotes require that OL at this position was lost at least twice during their diversification or was evolved independently more than once. Within the five tRNA genes, frequencies of substitutions are much higher in loops than in stems. Many loops vary dramatically in size among the species; in the most extreme case, the D-arm of the Sphenodon tRNA(Cys) is a "D-arm replacement" loop of seven nucleotides. Frequency of transitions in stems is relatively uniform across tRNAs, but frequency of transversions varies greatly. Mismatches in stems are infrequent, and their relative frequency in a specific tRNA is unrelated to the frequency of substitution in the corresponding gene. Several features of mammalian mitochondrial tRNAs are conserved in WANCY tRNAs throughout amniotes. The inferred initiation codon for COI is GTG in crocodilians, turtles, and the snake, a condition they share with fishes, certain amphibians, and birds. TTG appears to be the initiation codon for COI in Sphenodon; if correct, this would be a novel initiation codon for vertebrate mitochondrial DNA. Phylogenetic analyses of the inferred amino acid sequences of ND2 and COI support the sister-group relationship of birds and crocodilians and suggest that mammals are an early derived lineage within the amniotes.

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