Plant Systematics and Evolution

, Volume 263, Issue 3–4, pp 191–201 | Cite as

Phantom hitch-hikers mislead estimates of genetic variation in Antarctic mosses

  • M. I. StevensEmail author
  • S. A. Hunger
  • S. F. K. Hills
  • C. E. C. Gemmill


Previous studies of Antarctic mosses employing RAPDs have reported extraordinarily high levels of genetic variation, even within a single clump of moss. This is unexpected given their extreme isolation in Antarctica and lack of sexual reproduction. We offer an alternative explanation: that unusually elevated levels of genetic variability are artefacts from contamination of a number of biota known to be naturally associated with Antarctic mosses. We utilized sequence variation of nrITS and RAPDs to further investigate the effect of naturally occurring contaminants on estimates of genetic variation of mosses. Our results indicate that these ``phantom hitch-hiker'' contaminants hinder attempts to accurately and reliably estimate levels of genetic variation by non-specific PCR-based approaches. Furthermore, screening samples via amplification of nrITS failed to identify all contaminated samples, hence we caution against relying solely on ``quick'' screening methods and suggest that suspect samples be carefully examined for contamination.


Bryophytes DNA contamination fungi genetic variation protozoans RAPDs 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Wien 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • M. I. Stevens
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • S. A. Hunger
    • 3
  • S. F. K. Hills
    • 1
  • C. E. C. Gemmill
    • 3
  1. 1.Allan Wilson Centre for Molecular Ecology & EvolutionMassey UniversityPalmerston NorthNew Zealand
  2. 2.School of Biological SciencesMonash UniversityMelbourneAustralia
  3. 3.Centre for Biodiversity and Ecology ResearchUniversity of WaikatoHamiltonNew Zealand

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