Atypically low rate of cytochrome b evolution in the scleractinian coral genus Acropora

Madeleine J. H. van Oppen, Bette L. Willis, David J. Miller

Abstract

Unexpectedly low levels of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) cytochrome b sequence divergence are found between species of the scleractinian coral genus Acropora. Comparison of 964 positions of the cytochrome b gene of two out of the three Caribbean Acropora species with seven of their Pacific congeners shows only 0.3 – 0.8 % sequence difference. Species in these biogeographic regions have been evolving independently for at least three million years (since the rise of the Isthmus of Panama) and this geological date is used to estimate nucleotide divergence rates. The results indicate that the Acropora cytochrome b gene is evolving at least 10 – 20 times slower than the ‘standard’ vertebrate mtDNA clock and is one of the most slowly evolving animal mitochondrial genes described to date. The possibility is discussed that, unlike higher animals, cnidarians may have a functional mtDNA mismatch repair system.