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Mol Phylogenet Evol. 1996 Dec;6(3):391-407.

Evolution of the diatoms (Bacillariophyta). IV. A reconstruction of their age from small subunit rRNA coding regions and the fossil record.

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Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research, Bremerhaven, Germany.


Small subunit ribosomal RNA (ssu rRNA) coding regions from 30 diatoms, 3 oomycetes, and 6 pelagophytes were used to construct linearized trees, maximum-likelihood trees, and neighbor-joining trees inferred from both unweighted and weighted distances. Stochastic accumulation of sequence substitutions among the diatoms was assessed with relative rate tests. Pennate diatoms evolved relatively slowly but within the limits set by a stochastic model; centric diatoms exceeded those limits. A rate distribution test was devised to identify those taxa showing an aberrant distribution of base substitutions within the ssu rRNA coding region. First appearance dates of diatom taxa from the fossil record were regressed against their corresponding branch lengths to infer the average and earliest possible age for the origin of the diatoms, the pennate diatoms, and the centric diatom order Thalassiosirales. Our most lenient age estimate (based on the median-evolving diatom taxon in the maximum-likelihood tree or on the average branch length in a linearized tree) suggests that their average age is approximately 164-166 Ma, which is close to their earliest fossil record. Both calculations suggest that it is unlikely that diatoms existed prior to 238-266 Ma. Rate variation among the diatoms' ssu rRNA coding regions and uncertainties associated with the origin of extant taxa in the fossil record contribute significantly to the variation in age estimates obtained. Different evolutionary models and the exclusion of fast or slow evolving taxa did not significantly affect age estimates; however, the inclusion of aberrantly fast evolving taxa did. Our molecular clock calibrations indicate that the rRNA coding regions in the diatoms are evolving at approximately 1% per 18 to 26 Ma, which is the fastest substitution rate reported in any pro- or eukaryotic group of organisms to date.

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