Phylogeny and mitochondrial gene order variation in Lophotrochozoa in the light of new mitogenomic data from Nemertea
© Podsiadlowski et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. 2009
Received: 12 February 2009
Accepted: 6 August 2009
Published: 6 August 2009
The new animal phylogeny established several taxa which were not identified by morphological analyses, most prominently the Ecdysozoa (arthropods, roundworms, priapulids and others) and Lophotrochozoa (molluscs, annelids, brachiopods and others). Lophotrochozoan interrelationships are under discussion, e.g. regarding the position of Nemertea (ribbon worms), which were discussed to be sister group to e.g. Mollusca, Brachiozoa or Platyhelminthes. Mitochondrial genomes contributed well with sequence data and gene order characters to the deep metazoan phylogeny debate.
In this study we present the first complete mitochondrial genome record for a member of the Nemertea, Lineus viridis. Except two trnP and trnT, all genes are located on the same strand. While gene order is most similar to that of the brachiopod Terebratulina retusa, sequence based analyses of mitochondrial genes place nemerteans close to molluscs, phoronids and entoprocts without clear preference for one of these taxa as sister group.
Almost all recent analyses with large datasets show good support for a taxon comprising Annelida, Mollusca, Brachiopoda, Phoronida and Nemertea. But the relationships among these taxa vary between different studies. The analysis of gene order differences gives evidence for a multiple independent occurrence of a large inversion in the mitochondrial genome of Lophotrochozoa and a re-inversion of the same part in gastropods. We hypothesize that some regions of the genome have a higher chance for intramolecular recombination than others and gene order data have to be analysed carefully to detect convergent rearrangement events.
Starting about 25 years ago molecular phylogenetic approaches established a new system of animal taxonomy [1, 2]. Bilateria are split into three major subtaxa, the traditional Deuterostomia and two recently established groups, which were founded initially by molecular evidence: the Ecdysozoa (combining arthropods with nemathelminth taxa like nematodes, priapulids etc.) and the Lophotrochozoa (comprising the taxa formerly combined in Spiralia, except Arthropoda, but additionaly including the lophophorate taxa Brachiopoda, Phoronida and Ectoprocta). Despite controversy about the specific position of some taxa, these three major groups now seem to be well established and are frequently recovered in analyses of different molecular datasets like ribosomal RNAs [3–6], mitochondrial genomes [7–9] and EST datasets [10–13].
The lophotrochozoan taxon Nemertea (ribbon worms) comprises about 1150 free-living species, most of which inhabit marine environments, but a few species also occur in freshwater and even in terrestrial habitats . Morphological characters like the acoelomate organisation, the architecture of the nervous system, the sense organs and the protonephridial excretory structures were arguments for the traditional placement of Nemertea close to the Platyhelminthes (reviewed in ), while a trochophora-like larva with a prototroch gives some evidence for an inclusion into Trochozoa . Special features like the closed circulatory system (in an acoelomat body cavity!) and the retractable proboscis, serving for prey catching, are apomorphies which clearly support monophyly of the Nemertea .
Nemerteans are among the first acoelomates to be brought together with coelomates, providing the ground for the 'new view' of animal phylogeny . Meanwhile further molecular analyses came up with diverse hypotheses for their phylogenetic position. Depending on datasets and methods used for phylogenetic inference the propsed sister group of Nemertea was Platyzoa , Mollusca [13, 20, 21], Molluca + Annelida (= Neotrochozoa) [22, 23]. Recent approaches with large datasets from EST libraries added another hypothesis: in the phylogenetic analyses of Dunn et al.  and Helmkampf et al.  Nemertea cluster with Brachiopoda and Phoronida.
Animal mitochondrial genomes provide a large set of orthologous sequence data which are often used in phylogenetic analyses from population to phylum level. In addition to sequence information several other features are used to support phylogenetic hypotheses, e.g. gene order rearrangements, derived secondary structure of rRNAs and tRNAs, changes in genetic code (for a review see ). Mitochondrial gene order data had an early impact on formation of the Lophotrochozoa hypothesis: Stechmann and Schlegel  demonstrated a highly similar gene order when comparing the brachiopod Terebratulina retusa and the mollusc Katharina tunicata, giving a strong argument in favour of the Lophotrochozoa hypothesis. The main difference between the two species is one big inversion covering about half of the entire genome. Gene order of the partial mitochondrial genome from the nemertean Cephalothrix rufifrons is not much different from that of Katharina and Terebratulina .
In this study we present the first complete mitochondrial genome record for a member of the Nemertea, Lineus viridis. We use mitochondrial gene order and sequence data to evaluate the phylogenetic position of Nemertea. Furthermore, we discuss mitochondrial gene order data among Lophotrochozoa and conclude that specific inversions may have occurred independently in different taxa, probably providing a rare example of homoplasious change of gene order.
Results and Discussion
General features of the mitochondrial genome of Lineus viridis
Genome organisation of Lineus viridis (complete length: 15388 bp).
(start – end)
1 – 1533
1535 – 1599
1601 – 2287
2290 – 2353
2355 – 2513
2532 – 3224
3249 – 3310
3312 – 3376
3377 – 4209
4210 – 4275
4276 – 5580
5581 – 5649
5656 – 5721
5820 – 6750
6753 – 6818
6819 – 6883
6896 – 7354
7357 – 8491
8492 – 8559
8564 – 8628
8634 – 8942
8936 – 10287
10287 – 10351
10354 – 12086
12087 – 12149
12156 – 12219
12220 – 12999
13014 – 13082
13085 – 13150
13162 – 13225
13229 – 13296
13299 – 13356
13359 – 13424
13452 – 13519
13522 – 13887
13888 – 14302
14303 – 14372
14372 – 15388
A total of 676 non-coding nucleotides is found in the mt genome, comprising about 4.4% of the complete sequence. The major non-coding region is found between nad3 and trnS(SGN)/nad2, and has a slightly higher AT content (68.8%) than the remaining genome. Other lophotrochozoans with a similar gene order as Lineus (including the nemertean Cephalothrix rufifrons, ) do not have a non-coding sequence at that position. Near the 3'-end there is a 67 bp segment having the potential of forming a stem-loop structure. Figure 1 shows this structure and flanking sequences in minus-strand annotation, to show the flanking regions with putative signal sequences similar to that described from arthropod control regions [31, 32]. The second-largest non-coding part is found between trnL(UUR) and nad1 (98 bp), which has a higher AT content than other parts of the genome (74.5%). Other non-coding regions >10 bp are found between atp6 and trnC (24 bp), trnY and trnP (12 bp), trnG and cox3 (14 bp), trnA and trnF (11 bp) and trnR and trnN (27 bp). Between nad4 and trnH there seems to be an overlap of 10 nucleotides.
Protein-coding genes and rRNAs
All protein-coding genes use exclusively ATG as start codon, while stop codon TAA (5×) and TAG (4×) are used almost equally often (Table 1). Four genes have incomplete stop codons (TA-, T-), a feature often found in animal mitochondrial genomes. Incomplete stop codons are probably subject to post-transcriptional polyadenylation . All protein-coding genes are encoded on the plus-strand and show a positive GC-skew, ranging from 0.236 in cox1 to 0.505 in nad4L. There is a trend for higher GC-skew in usually less conserved sequences like nad3, nad4, nad5, compared to more conserved genes like cox1-3, cob. The two ribosomal RNA genes (16S, 12S) are similar in length to those from other lophotrochozoan taxa, and as in many bilaterians, both are separated by trnV.
Mitochondrial gene order in Lophotrochozoa
Gene order of Lineus viridis is very similar to that of some other lophotrochozoan taxa. Most of the differences between lophotrochozoan taxa concern translocations of tRNA genes, which seem to be more "mobile" than the larger genes [32, 36]. Analysis of relative positions of tRNA genes yielded no phylogenetic informative character (data not shown), so we focused on the relative positions of the protein-coding and rRNA genes. Their gene order is identical in Lineus, the brachiopod Terebratulina retusa , and some gastropods, e.g. Conus textile , Ilyanassa obsoleta , Thais clavigera (GenBank NC_010090), and Lophiotoma cerithiformis . Turbeville and Smith  also analysed mitochondrial gene order of a partial genome of the nemertean Cephalothrix rufifrons. Their gene adjacency analyses clustered Cephalothrix with molluscs, preferentially Haliotis, but the brachiopod Terebratulina was missing in their analyses. Other molluscs like the gastropod Haliotis rubra , the polyplacophoran Katharina tunicata  and the cephalopod Octopus vulgaris  show a similar gene order, but distinguished by a large inversion of about half the mt genome (Figure 3). The segment spanning from trnF to trnE (adjacent to the control region) is found in opposite direction than the remainder of the genome. Due to the broader distribution among Mollusca (Polyplacophora, Gastropoda, Cephalopoda) it is most parsimonious to assume the gene order of Katharina and Octopus (= with inversion) to be ancient within molluscs and to interpret gene order in the gastropods Conus, Ilyanassa and Thais to be secondarily re-inverted (other molluscs like Scaphopoda and Bivalvia show strongly derived gene orders compared to the mentioned species). Besides molluscs a similar inversion is seen in the mt genome of Phoronis psammophila  and, secondarily complicated by another inversion, in the Entoprocts Loxosomella and Loxocorone . This inversion may be a synapomorphy of Phoronida + Entoprocta + Mollusca. However, there is no good support from sequence based analyses for a clade combining exclusively these three taxa (see below). Furthermore, an inversion similar to that described for Lophotrochozoa is found in Ecdysozoa, comparing arthropod and priapulid gene order . Thus there is also reason to suspect some parts of the genome to be more often involved in rearrangements than others. In particular the mitochondrial control region may represent a region with "predetermined breaking points" in the mitochondrial genome, as there is non-coding sequence and no functional gene will be disrupted by a breakpoint. Besides its position the second breaking point cannot be further characterized by now. As there is a re-inversion in some gastropods, we cannot exclude that this inversion took place independently two or three times in Phoronida, Mollusca and Entoprocta. Nonetheless, it is reasonable to assume that the basal condition in Bilateria or at least Lophotrochozoa is to have all genes on the same strand – this is actually seen in Brachiopoda, Annelida, Platyhelminthes and Acanthocephalans.
Phylogenetic analysis (of mitochondrial amino acid sequences)
Hypothesis testing using the 30 taxa datset and constrained user trees.
Best tree (Nemertea, Mollusca)
(Phoronis, Brachiopoda, Entoprocta)
Dunn et al. , analysing a large EST dataset, found Entoprocta as sister group to the remaining taxa Mollusca, Annelida, Phoronida, Brachiopoda and Nemertea. Nemerteans are found to be sister group to Brachiopoda in one of their analyses, and sister group to a clade combining Brachiopoda and Phoronida in the second analysis (with a slightly reduced taxon set). The latter assemblage found support in some of their parameter settings. Here, Annelida sensu lato were the sister group of Nemertea, Brachiopoda and Phoronida, but only with moderate support. Struck & Fisse  found good support for Mollusca+Nemertea in Bayesian analyses of an amino acid alignment derived from EST data, while ML analyses were rather indifferent between Annelida and Mollusca as sister group to Nemertea. But these analyses did not include phoronid and brachiopod species. A partial mitochondrial genome of another nemertean species, Cephalothrix rufifrons, was previously published . The corresponding phylogenetic analyses favoured an affinity to molluscs, which appeared paraphyletic in that study.
Phylogenetic analyses of available mitochondrial sequence data (concatenated amino acid sequences) do not clearly resolve lophotrochozoan interrelationships, but favour a clade combining Nemertea, Mollusca, Phoronida and Entoprocta on one hand, Brachiopoda, Ectoprocta, Annelida, Sipuncula and Myzostomida on the other. Recent large analyses of EST datasets with similar taxon sampling came to other results. Mitochondrial gene order is very similar in Nemertea, some brachiopods and some molluscs, suggesting a shared ground pattern at least for a lophotrochozoan subtaxon. Phoronid and entoproct gene order is easily derivable from this ground pattern, while gene order of annelids and ectoprocts seems to be strongly derived, also in comparison to gene order of outgroup taxa from Ecdysozoa and Deuterostomia. In conclusion, none of the recent molecular based studies (mitochondrial genomes, EST approaches) found support for a relationship between Nemertea and Platyhelmithes, but the sister group to Nemertea remains an open question with more evidence for the candidates Mollusca, Phoronida, Entoprocta, Brachiopoda and less evidence for Annelida.
Animal samples and DNA extraction
Specimen of Lineus viridis were sampled on the island Sylt and fixed in 99.8% ethanol. DNA extraction was done with DNeasy Blood and Tissue kits (Qiagen, Hilden, Germany) according to manufacturers protocol for animal tissue.
PCR and sequencing
Several standard PCR primer sets were tested to yield fragments of mitochondrial genes. Amplification was successful with the following primers: cox1: LCO-1490, 5'-GGT CAA CAA ATC ATA AAG ATA TTG G-3'; HCO-2198, 5'-TAA ACT TCA GGG TGA CCA AAA AAT CA-3' ; 16S: 16SarL, 5'-CGC CTG TTT AAC AAA AAC AT-3'; 16SbrH, 5'-CCG GTC TGA ACT CAG ATC ACG T-3' . All PCRs were performed on Eppendorf Mastercycler and Mastercycler gradient. In these short-range PCR experiments Eppendorf 5-prime-Taq kit (Eppendorf, Germany) was used in 50 μl volumes (5 μl buffer; 1 μl dNTP mix, 10 μM; 0.25 μl Taq polymerase; 1 μl DNA, 40.75 μl water, 1 μl primer mix, 10 μM each). PCR products were purified using the Nucleospin kit (Macherey & Nagel). PCR conditions were: initial denaturation (94°C, 1 min), 40 cycles of denaturation (94°C, 30 sec), annealing (50°C, 30 sec), and elongation (68°C, 1 min), followed by a final elongation step (68°C, 1 min). These PCR products were sequenced using the Beckman-Coulter CEQ 8000 machine and DTCS kit (Beckman-Coulter) following the manufacturers protocol, except for using 10 μl volumes instead of 20 μl for the sequencing reaction.
These initial sequences along with mitochondrial sequences from an EST library generated by one of the authors [13, 46] were used to design long-range PCR primers covering the complete mitochondrial genome of Lineus viridis. PCR was successfully performed with the primer sets Lv-cox1r (5'-CCA GTA CCA ACC AAA CCA GAC C-3')/Lv-16Sf (5'-AAA AGA TTG CGA CCT CGA TGT T-3) and Lv-16Sf (5'-AAA AGA TTG CGA CCT CGA TGT-3')/Lv-cox1r (5'-CCA GTA CCA ACC AAA CCA GAC C-3'). Long-range PCR was done with Takara LA Taq kit (Takara, distributed in Germany by MoBiTec) in 50 μl Volumes (34.5 μl water; 5 μl PCR buffer; 8 μl dNTP mix; 0.5 μl LA Taq; 1 μl primer-mix, 20 μM; 1 μl DNA). PCR conditions were: initial denaturation (94°C, 1 min), 40 cycles of denaturation (94°C, 30 sec), annealing (55°C, 1 min), and elongation (65°C, 12 min), followed by a final elongation step (65°C, 10 min). Long-range PCR products were purified using the Nucleospin kit (Macherey & Nagel) and subsequently used for a shotgun cloning approach (done in commission by Max Planck Institute of Molecular Genetics, Berlin).
Sequence assemblage and annotation
Sequences were assembled using Bioedit . Detection and annotation of tRNA genes was done making use of ARWEN  and tRNA scan SE . Protein-coding and rRNA genes were firstly identified by BLAST search, then gene boundaries were detected in comparison with alignments of several lophotrochozoan taxa. Nucleotide composition was computed using Bioedit and GC- and AT-skew was determined by using the formulation of Perna and Kocher .
For phylogenetic analysis a concatenated dataset of mitochondrial amino acid alignments from 12 genes was built. The gene atp8 was excluded from the analysis, due to the fact that it is missing from many genomes (nematodes, platyhelminthes, chaetognaths), and that it is the smallest and least conserved of the protein-coding genes. Sequence data from 104 species, most of them with complete mt genome entries were retrieved from GenBank, for accession numbers see Additional file 1. Alignments were done with ClustalW  as implemented in Bioedit . For the large dataset non-conserved sites were excluded from likelihood analyses making use of the Gblocks software , with the following parameter settings: minimum number of sequences for a conserved position: 55; minimum number of sequences for a flanking position: 55; maximum number of contiguous nonconserved positions: 8; minimum length of a block: 10; allowed gap positions: with half. In this case 2294 amino acid sites (= 49%) were recovered from the original dataset of 4654 amino acids. For maximum likelihood analysis, we used RAxML 7.0.4 [53, 54] as offered on the CIPRES web portal. We choose mtRev+G+I, because mtRev was the only model derived from mitochondrial data available on this platform. We performed a search for the best tree and 100 bootstrap replicates. For more sophisticated analyses we chose a smaller dataset focussed on Lophotrochozoa (26 species) and using four species of Ecdysozoa and Deuterostomia representing the outgroup to Lophotrochozoa. Due to the better conservation among the alignments we used the complete alignments of twelve protein-coding genes and built a concatenated alignment with a final length of 3820 amino acids.
We used this smaller dataset to test different models in maximum likelihood analysis (mtRev, mtZoa), run a Bayesian analysis and performed hypothesis testing of alternative topologies. With the smaller dataset a partitioned model optimization was done in that we partitioned the dataset according to the 12 genes. Besides RAxML with mtRev+G+I (100 bootstrap runs) we used Treefinder v. Oct 2008  to perform a maximum likelihood analysis with mtRev+G+I and the self implemented mtZoa+G+I model (each with LR-ELW, 1000 replications). The mtZoa model is optimzed for amino acid alignments from lophotrochozoan taxa . In all likelihood analyses, models were the same for each partition but optimized in an unlinked manner between the partitions. In addition a Bayesian analysis was performed with MrBayes 3.1.2 . 1,000,000 generations of two times four parallel chains were run, by sampling one tree out of thousand. According to the log likelihood plots 200 trees were discarded as burnin. Model settings were mtRev+G+I (unpartitioned due to time limitations). Hypothesis testing was done by computing best trees and per site likelihoods with RAxML (mtRev+G+I) for a set of constrained trees. Per site likelihoods were used to perform the AU-test , by making use of CONSEL 0.1j .
- atp6 and 8:
genes encoding ATPase subunit 6 and 8
- AU test:
approximately unbiased test
Bayesian posterior probability
- cox1-3 :
genes encoding cytochrome oxidase subunits I-III
- cob :
gene encoding cytochrome b
edge support, local rearrangements (LR) around an edge of the best tree topology are analyzed for expected likelihood weights (ELW), yielding an approximation of the bootstrap value
- mt genome:
- nad1-6 and nad4L:
genes encoding NADH dehydrogenase subunits 1-6 and 4L
polymerase chain reaction
- rrnL :
large (16S) rRNA subunit (gene)
- rrnS :
small (12S) rRNA subunit (gene)
- tRNA-Xyz (where Xyz is replaced by three letter amino acid code of the corresponding amino acid):
- trnX (where X is replaced by one letter amino acid code of the corresponding amino acid):
We thank Christoph Bleidorn and Fabian Kilpert for computational support. This study was supported by German Science Foundation grants DFG Ba 1520/10-1,2 (to LP and TB), DFG Pu 683/5-1 (THS) and DFG Scho 442/8-1,2 (to AB), all from priority programme 1174 "Deep Metazoan Phylogeny", and DFG Ba 1520/11-1,2 (to TB and JD).
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