Mosses share mitochondrial group II introns with flowering plants, not with liverworts
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Extant bryophytes are regarded as the closest living relatives of the first land plants, but relationships among the bryophyte classes (mosses, liverworts and hornworts) and between them and other embryophytes have remained unclear. We have recently found that plant mitochondrial genes with positionally stable introns are well suited for addressing questions of plant phylogeny at a deep level. To explore further data sets we have chosen to investigate the mitochondrial genes nad4 and nad7, which are particularly rich in intron sequences. Surprisingly, we find that in these genes mosses share three group II introns with flowering plants, but none with the liverwort Marchantia polymorpha or other liverworts investigated here. In mitochondria of Marchantia, nad7 is a pseudogene containing stop codons, but nad7 appears as a functional mitochondrial gene in mosses, including the isolated genus Takakia. We observe the necessity for strikingly frequent C-to-U RNA editing to reconstitute conserved codons in Takakia when compared to other mosses. The findings underline the great evolutionary distances among the bryophytes as the presumptive oldest division of land plants. A scenario involving differential intron gains from fungal sources in what are perhaps the two earliest diverging land plant lineages, liverworts and other embryophytes, is discussed. With their positionally stable introns, nad4 and nad7 represent novel marker genes that may permit a detailed phylogenetic resolution of early clades of land plants.
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