Evolutionary Relationships Among the Eukaryotic Crown Taxa Taking into Account Site-to-Site Rate Variation in 18S rRNA
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In this study we constructed a bootstrapped distance tree of 500 small subunit ribosomal RNA sequences from organisms belonging to the so-called crown of eukaryote evolution. Taking into account the substitution rate of the individual nucleotides of the rRNA sequence alignment, our results suggest that (1) animals, true fungi, and choanoflagellates share a common origin: The branch joining these taxa is highly supported by bootstrap analysis (bootstrap support [BS] > 90%), (2) stramenopiles and alveolates are sister groups (BS = 75%), (3) within the alveolates, dinoflagellates and apicomplexans share a common ancestor BS > 95%), while in turn they both share a common origin with the ciliates (BS > 80%), and (4) within the stramenopiles, heterokont algae, hyphochytriomycetes, and oomycetes form a monophyletic grouping well supported by bootstrap analysis (BS > 85%), preceded by the well-supported successive divergence of labyrinthulomycetes and bicosoecids.
On the other hand, many evolutionary relationships between crown taxa are still obscure on the basis of 18S rRNA. The branching order between the animal-fungal-choanoflagellates clade and the chlorobionts, the alveolates and stramenopiles, red algae, and several smaller groups of organisms remains largely unresolved.
When among-site rate variation is not considered, the inferred tree topologies are inferior to those where the substitution rate spectrum for the 18S rRNA is taken into account. This is primarily indicated by the erroneous branching of fast-evolving sequences. Moreover, when different substitution rates among sites are not considered, the animals no longer appear as a monophyletic grouping in most distance trees.
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