Exclusive conservation of mitochondrial group II intron nad4i548 among liverworts and its use for phylogenetic studies in this ancient plant clade

Authors

  • U. Volkmar,

    1.  IZMB – Institut für Zelluläre und Molekulare Botanik, Abt. Molekulare Evolution, Universität Bonn, Bonn, Germany
    2.  Present address: Instituut voor Plantkunde en Microbiologie, Laboratorium voor Plantensystematiek, K.U. Leuven, Leuven, Belgium
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    • Editor
      F. Roux

  • M. Groth-Malonek,

    1.  IZMB – Institut für Zelluläre und Molekulare Botanik, Abt. Molekulare Evolution, Universität Bonn, Bonn, Germany
    2.  Present address: KWS SAAT AG, Einbeck, Germany
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    • Editor
      F. Roux

  • J. Heinrichs,

    1.  Albrecht-von-Haller-Institut für Pflanzenwissenschaften, Abt. Systematische Botanik, Universität Göttingen, Göttingen, Germany
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  • H. Muhle,

    1.  Systematische Botanik und Ökologie, Universität Ulm, Ulm, Germany
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  • M. Polsakiewicz,

    1.  IZMB – Institut für Zelluläre und Molekulare Botanik, Abt. Molekulare Evolution, Universität Bonn, Bonn, Germany
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  • V. Knoop

    1.  IZMB – Institut für Zelluläre und Molekulare Botanik, Abt. Molekulare Evolution, Universität Bonn, Bonn, Germany
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  • The first two authors contributed equally to this work.

V. Knoop, IZMB – Institut für Zelluläre und Molekulare Botanik, Abt. Molekulare Evolution, Universität Bonn, Kirschallee 1, 53115 Bonn, Germany.
E-mail: volker.knoop@uni-bonn.de

Abstract

Liverworts occupy a pivotal position in land plant (embryophyte) phylogeny as the presumed earliest-branching major clade, sister to all other land plants, including the mosses, hornworts, lycophytes, monilophytes and seed plants. Molecular support for this earliest dichotomy in land plant phylogeny comes from strikingly different occurrences of introns in mitochondrial genes distinguishing liverworts from all other embryophytes. Exceptionally, however, the nad5 gene – the mitochondrial locus hitherto used most widely to elucidate early land plant phylogeny – carries a group I type intron that is shared between liverworts and mosses. We here explored whether a group II intron, the other major type of organellar intron, would similarly be conserved in position across the entire diversity of extant liverworts and could be of use for phylogenetic analyses in this supposedly most ancient embryophyte clade. To this end, we investigated the nad4 gene as a candidate locus possibly featuring different introns in liverworts as opposed to the non-liverwort embryophyte (NLE) lineage. We indeed found group II intron nad4i548 universally conserved in a wide phylogenetic sampling of 55 liverwort taxa, confirming clade specificity and surprising evolutionary stability of plant mitochondrial introns. As expected, intron nad4i548g2 carries phylogenetic information in its variable sequences, which confirms and extends previous cladistic insights on liverwort evolution. We integrate the new nad4 data with those of the previously established mitochondrial nad5 and the chloroplast rbcL and rps4 genes and present a phylogeny based on the fused datasets. Notably, the phylogenetic analyses suggest a reconsideration of previous phylogenetic and taxonomic assignments for the genera Calycularia and Mylia and resolve a sister group relationship of Ptilidiales and Porellales.

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