, Volume 128, Issue 1-3, pp 95-108

Accelerated molecular evolution in Microtus (Rodentia) as assessed via complete mitochondrial genome sequences

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Abstract

Microtus is one of the most taxonomically diverse mammalian genera, including over 60 extant species. These rodents have evolved rapidly, as the genus originated less than 2 million years ago. If these numbers are taken at face value, then an average of 30 microtine speciation events have occurred every million years. One explanation for the rapid rate of cladogenesis in Microtus could be the karyotypic differentiation exhibited across the genus: diploid numbers range from 17 to 64. Despite the striking chromosomal variability within Microtus, phenotypic variation is unremarkable. To determine whether nucleotide substitution rates are also elevated in voles, we sequenced the entire mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) genome of the Eurasian sibling vole (Microtus rossiaemeridionalis). We compared this genome to another previously sequenced vole mtDNA genome (Microtus kikuchii) and performed pairwise sequence comparisons with the mtDNA genomes of ten additional mammalian genera. We found that microtine mtDNA genomes are evolving more rapidly than any other mammalian lineage we sampled, as gauged by the rate of nucleotide substitution across the entire mtDNA genome as well as at each individual protein-coding gene. Additionally, we compared substitution rates within the cytochrome b gene to seven other rodent genera and found that Microtus mtDNA is evolving fastest. The root cause of accelerated evolution in Microtus remains uncertain, but merits further investigation.

The mitochondrial genome sequence from this article has been deposited with the GenBank database under accession number DQ015676.