The availability of whole genome sequences from multiple metazoan phyla is making it possible to determine their phylogeny. We have found that a sea urchin and human define a clade that excludes a tunicate, contradicting both classical and recent molecular studies that place the tunicate and vertebrate in the Chordate phylum. Intriguingly, by means of a novel four taxa analysis, we have partitioned the 2000 proteins responsible for this assignment into two groups. One group, containing about 40% of the proteins, supports the classical assemblage of the tunicate with vertebrates, while the remaining group places the tunicate outside of the chordate assemblage. The existence of these two phylogenetic groups is robustly maintained in five, six and nine taxa analyses. These results suggest that major horizontal gene transfer events occurred during the emergence of one of the metazoan phyla. The simplest explanation is that the modern tunicate (as represented by Ciona intestinalis) began as a hybrid between a primitive vertebrate and some other organism, perhaps from an extinct and unidentified protostome phylum, at a time close to but after the diversification of the chordates and echinoderms and before the lineages leading to Drosophila melanogaster and Caenorhabditis elegans diverged.
- Four-Taxa Analysis
- Horizontal Gene Transfer
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous)
- Applied Mathematics