Changes in mitochondrial genetic codes as phylogenetic characters: two examples from the flatworms

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2000 Oct 10;97(21):11359-64. doi: 10.1073/pnas.97.21.11359.


Shared molecular genetic characteristics other than DNA and protein sequences can provide excellent sources of phylogenetic information, particularly if they are complex and rare and are consequently unlikely to have arisen by chance convergence. We have used two such characters, arising from changes in mitochondrial genetic code, to define a clade within the Platyhelminthes (flatworms), the Rhabditophora. We have sampled 10 distinct classes within the Rhabditophora and find that all have the codon AAA coding for the amino acid Asn rather than the usual Lys and AUA for Ile rather than the usual Met. We find no evidence to support claims that the codon UAA codes for Tyr in the Platyhelminthes rather than the standard stop codon. The Rhabditophora are a very diverse group comprising the majority of the free-living turbellarian taxa and the parasitic Neodermata. In contrast, three other classes of turbellarian flatworm, the Acoela, Nemertodermatida, and Catenulida, have the standard invertebrate assignments for these codons and so are convincingly excluded from the rhabditophoran clade. We have developed a rapid computerized method for analyzing genetic codes and demonstrate the wide phylogenetic distribution of the standard invertebrate code as well as confirming already known metazoan deviations from it (ascidian, vertebrate, echinoderm/hemichordate).

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Base Sequence
  • Codon
  • DNA Primers
  • Genetic Code*
  • Mitochondria / genetics*
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Phylogeny*
  • Platyhelminths / genetics*
  • Species Specificity


  • Codon
  • DNA Primers

Associated data

  • GENBANK/AJ405969
  • GENBANK/AJ405970
  • GENBANK/AJ405971
  • GENBANK/AJ405972
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  • GENBANK/AJ405985
  • GENBANK/AJ405986
  • GENBANK/AJ405987
  • GENBANK/AJ405988
  • GENBANK/AJ405989
  • GENBANK/AJ405990
  • GENBANK/AJ405991
  • GENBANK/AJ405992
  • GENBANK/AJ405993
  • GENBANK/AJ405994
  • GENBANK/AJ405995
  • GENBANK/AJ405996
  • GENBANK/AJ405997
  • GENBANK/AJ405998