More than 1000 ultraconserved elements provide evidence that turtles are the sister group of archosaurs

Biol Lett. 2012 Oct 23;8(5):783-6. doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2012.0331. Epub 2012 May 16.


We present the first genomic-scale analysis addressing the phylogenetic position of turtles, using over 1000 loci from representatives of all major reptile lineages including tuatara. Previously, studies of morphological traits positioned turtles either at the base of the reptile tree or with lizards, snakes and tuatara (lepidosaurs), whereas molecular analyses typically allied turtles with crocodiles and birds (archosaurs). A recent analysis of shared microRNA families found that turtles are more closely related to lepidosaurs. To test this hypothesis with data from many single-copy nuclear loci dispersed throughout the genome, we used sequence capture, high-throughput sequencing and published genomes to obtain sequences from 1145 ultraconserved elements (UCEs) and their variable flanking DNA. The resulting phylogeny provides overwhelming support for the hypothesis that turtles evolved from a common ancestor of birds and crocodilians, rejecting the hypothesized relationship between turtles and lepidosaurs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bayes Theorem
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Birds / physiology
  • Computational Biology / methods
  • Conserved Sequence
  • Databases, Factual
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Gene Library
  • Genomics
  • MicroRNAs / metabolism
  • Models, Statistical
  • Phylogeny
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA
  • Turtles / physiology*


  • MicroRNAs