Reconstruction of structural evolution in the trnL intron P6b loop of symbiotic Nostoc (Cyanobacteria)
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In this study we reconstruct the structural evolution of the hyper-variable P6b region of the group I trnLeu intron in a monophyletic group of lichen-symbiotic Nostoc strains and establish it as a useful marker in the phylogenetic analysis of these organisms. The studied cyanobacteria occur as photosynthetic and/or nitrogen-fixing symbionts in lichen species of the diverse Nephroma guild. Phylogenetic analyses and secondary structure reconstructions are used to improve the understanding of the replication mechanisms in the P6b stem–loop and to explain the observed distribution patterns of indels. The variants of the P6b region in the Nostoc clade studied consist of different combinations of five sequence modules. The distribution of indels together with the ancestral character reconstruction performed enables the interpretation of the evolution of each sequence module. Our results indicate that the indel events are usually associated with single nucleotide changes in the P6b region and have occurred several times independently. In spite of their homoplasy, they provide phylogenetic information for closely related taxa. Thus we recognize that features of the P6b region can be used as molecular markers for species identification and phylogenetic studies involving symbiotic Nostoc cyanobacteria.