Journal of Molecular Evolution

, Volume 67, Issue 4, pp 389–396 | Cite as

Secondary Structure of the rRNA ITS2 Region Reveals Key Evolutionary Patterns in Acroporid Corals

  • Annette W. ColemanEmail author
  • Madeleine J. H. van Oppen


This study investigates the ribosomal RNA transcript secondary structure in corals as confirmed by compensatory base changes in Isopora/Acropora species. These species are unique versus all other corals in the absence of a eukaryote-wide conserved structural component, the helix III in internal transcriber spacer (ITS) 2, and their variability in the 5.8S-LSU helix basal to ITS2, a helix with pairings identical among all other scleractinian corals. Furthermore, Isopora/Acropora individuals display at least two, and as many as three, ITS sequence isotypes in their genome which appear to be capable of function. From consideration of the conserved elements in ITS2 and flanking regions, it appears that there are three major groups within the IsoporaAcropora lineage: the Isopora + Acropora “longi” group, the large group including Caribbean Acropora + the Acropora “carib” types plus the bulk of the Indo-Pacific Acropora species, and the remaining enigmatic “pseudo” group found in the Pacific. Interbreeding is possible among Caribbean A. palmata and A. cervicornis and among some species of Indo-Pacific Acropora. Recombinant ITS sequences are obvious among these latter, such that morphology (as represented by species name) does not correlate with common ITS sequence. The combination of characters revealed by RNA secondary structure analyses suggests a recent past/current history of interbreeding among the Indo-Pacific Acropora species and a shared ancestry of some of these with the Caribbean Acropora. The unusual absence of helix III of ITS2 of Isopora/Acropora species may have some causative role in the equally unusual instability in the 5.8S-LSU helix basal to ITS2 of this species complex.


Acropora Corals Hybridization ITS2 transcript secondary structure Ribosomal RNA Scleractinia 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Annette W. Coleman
    • 1
    Email author
  • Madeleine J. H. van Oppen
    • 2
  1. 1.Division of Biology and MedicineBrown UniversityProvidenceUSA
  2. 2.Australian Institute of Marine Science, PMB No. 3Townsville, MCAustralia

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