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Nuclear mitochondrial pseudogenes in Austinograea alayseae hydrothermal vent crabs (Crustacea: Bythograeidae): effects on DNA barcoding


Correspondence: Se-Jong Ju, Fax: +82-31-4007780; E-mail:


Members of the brachyuran crab family, Bythograeidae, are among the most abundant and common crabs in vent fields. However, their identification based on morphological characteristics often leads to incorrect species recognition due to a lack of taxonomic factors and the existence of sibling (or cryptic) species. For these reasons, we used DNA barcoding for vent crabs using mitochondrial cytochrome c oxidase subunit 1 (CO1). However, several nuclear mitochondrial pseudogenes (Numts) were amplified from Austinograea alayseae Guinot, 1990, using universal primers (Folmer primers). The Numts were characterized in six haplotypes, with 13.58–14.11% sequence divergence from A. alayseae, a higher nonsynonymous substitution ratio than true CO1, and the formation of an independent clade in bythograeids. In a neighbour-joining tree, the origin of the Numts would be expected to incorporate into the nucleus at an ancestral node of Austinograea, and they mutated more slowly in the nucleus than CO1 in the mitochondria. This evolutionary process may have resulted in the higher binding affinity of Numts for the Folmer primers than CO1. In the present study, we performed long PCR for the amplification of CO1 in A. alayseae. We also present evidence that Numts can introduce serious ambiguity into DNA barcoding, including overestimating the number of species in bythograeids. These results may help in conducting taxonomic studies using mitochondrial genes from organisms living in hydrothermal vent fields.