Extreme differences in rates of molecular evolution of foraminifera revealed by comparison of ribosomal DNA sequences and the fossil record

Mol Biol Evol. 1997 May;14(5):498-505. doi: 10.1093/oxfordjournals.molbev.a025786.


Foraminifera have one of the best known fossil records among the unicellular eukaryotes. However, the origin and phylogenetic relationships of the extant foraminiferal lineages are poorly understood. To test the current paleontological hypotheses on evolution of foraminifera, we sequenced about 1,000 base pairs from the 3' end of the small subunit rRNA gene (SSU rDNA) in 22 species representing all major taxonomic groups. Phylogenies were derived using neighbor-joining, maximum-parsimony, and maximum-likelihood methods. All analyses confirm the monophyletic origin of foraminifera. Evolutionary relationships within foraminifera inferred from rDNA sequences, however, depend on the method of tree building and on the choice of analyzed sites. In particular, the position of planktonic foraminifera shows important variations. We have shown that these changes result from the extremely high rate of rDNA evolution in this group. By comparing the number of substitutions with the divergence times inferred from the fossil record, we have estimated that the rate of rDNA evolution in planktonic foraminifera is 50 to 100 times faster than in some benthic foraminifera. The use of the maximum-likelihood method and limitation of analyzed sites to the most conserved parts of the SSU rRNA molecule render molecular and paleontological data generally congruent.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Base Sequence
  • DNA Primers / genetics
  • DNA, Protozoan / genetics*
  • DNA, Ribosomal / genetics*
  • Eukaryota / classification
  • Eukaryota / genetics*
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Fossils*
  • Likelihood Functions
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Phylogeny
  • Plankton / classification
  • Plankton / genetics
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Time Factors


  • DNA Primers
  • DNA, Protozoan
  • DNA, Ribosomal

Associated data

  • GENBANK/X00686
  • GENBANK/X86093
  • GENBANK/X86095
  • GENBANK/Z69599
  • GENBANK/Z69600
  • GENBANK/Z69601
  • GENBANK/Z69602
  • GENBANK/Z69603
  • GENBANK/Z69604
  • GENBANK/Z69605
  • GENBANK/Z69606
  • GENBANK/Z69607
  • GENBANK/Z69608
  • GENBANK/Z69609
  • GENBANK/Z69610
  • GENBANK/Z69611
  • GENBANK/Z69612
  • GENBANK/Z69613
  • GENBANK/Z69614
  • GENBANK/Z69615
  • GENBANK/Z69616
  • GENBANK/Z69617
  • GENBANK/Z69618