, Volume 37, Issue 4, pp 312-322

Comparison between the complete mtDNA sequences of the blue and the fin whale, two species that can hybridize in nature

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The sequence of the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) molecule of the blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus) was determined. The molecule is 16,402 by long and its organization conforms with that of other eutherian mammals. The molecule was compared with the mtDNA of the congeneric fin whale (B. physalus). It was recently documented that the two species can hybridize and that male offspring are infertile whereas female offspring may be fertile. The present comparison made it possible to determine the degree of mtDNA difference that occurs between two species that are not completely separated by hybridization incompatibility. The difference between the complete mtDNA sequences was 7.4%. Lengths of peptide coding genes were the same in both species. Except for a small portion of the control region, disruption in alignment was usually limited to insertion/deletion of a single nucleotide. Nucleotide differences between peptide coding genes ranged from 7.1 to 10.5%, and difference at the inferred amino acid level was 0.0–7.9%. In the rRNA genes the mean transition difference was 3.8%. This figure is similar in degree to the difference (3.4%) between the 12S rRNA gene of humans and the chimpanzee. The mtDNA differences between the two whale species, involving both peptide coding and rRNA genes, suggest an evolutionary separation of ⩾5 million years. Although hybridization between more distantly related mammalian species may not be excluded, it is probable that the blue and fin whales are nearly as different in their mtDNA sequences as hybridizing mammal species may be.

Correspondence to: Ú. Árnason