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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

The phylogenetic position of Acoela as revealed by the complete mitochondrial genome of Symsagittifera roscoffensis

Adina Mwinyi1, Xavier Bailly2, Sarah J Bourlat3, Ulf Jondelius3, D Timothy J Littlewood4 and Lars Podsiadlowski1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Evolutionary Biology and Ecology, University of Bonn, An der Immenburg 1, 53121 Bonn, Germany

2 UPMC-CNRS, FR2424, Station Biologique de Roscoff, Place Georges Teissier, 29680 Roscoff, France

3 Department of Invertebrate Zoology, Swedish Museum of Natural History, Box 50007, 10405 Stockholm, Sweden

4 Department of Zoology, Natural History Museum, Cromwell Road, London SW7 5BD, UK

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2010, 10:309  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-10-309

Published: 13 October 2010

Abstract

Background

Acoels are simply organized unsegmented worms, lacking hindgut and anus. Several publications over recent years challenge the long-held view that acoels are early offshoots of the flatworms. Instead a basal position as sister group to all other bilaterian animals was suggested, mainly based on molecular evidence. This led to the view that features of acoels might reflect those of the last common ancestor of Bilateria, and resulted in several evo-devo studies trying to interpret bilaterian evolution using acoels as a proxy model for the "Urbilateria".

Results

We describe the first complete mitochondrial genome sequence of a member of the Acoela, Symsagittifera roscoffensis. Gene content and circular organization of the mitochondrial genome does not significantly differ from other bilaterian animals. However, gene order shows no similarity to any other mitochondrial genome within the Metazoa. Phylogenetic analyses of concatenated alignments of amino acid sequences from protein coding genes support a position of Acoela and Nemertodermatida as the sister group to all other Bilateria. Our data provided no support for a sister group relationship between Xenoturbellida and Acoela or Acoelomorpha. The phylogenetic position of Xenoturbella bocki as sister group to or part of the deuterostomes was also unstable.

Conclusions

Our phylogenetic analysis supports the view that acoels and nemertodermatids are the earliest divergent extant lineage of Bilateria. As such they remain a valid source for seeking primitive characters present in the last common ancestor of Bilateria. Gene order of mitochondrial genomes seems to be very variable among Acoela and Nemertodermatida and the groundplan for the metazoan mitochondrial genome remains elusive. More data are needed to interpret mitochondrial genome evolution at the base of Bilateria.