Open Access Research article

Chromosome painting in the manatee supports Afrotheria and Paenungulata

Margaret E Kellogg1, Sandra Burkett2, Thomas R Dennis3, Gary Stone2, Brian A Gray3, Peter M McGuire4, Roberto T Zori3 and Roscoe Stanyon5*

Author Affiliations

1 College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Florida, PO BOX 100245, Gainesville, FL 32610-0245, USA

2 Comparative Molecular Cytogenetics Core, National Cancer Institute, Frederick, MD 21702, USA

3 Department of Pediatrics, Division of Genetics, University of Florida, PO Box 100296, UFHSC, Gainesville, FL 32610, USA

4 Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, University of Florida, PO Box 100245, College of Medicine, Gainesville, FL 32610, USA

5 Department of Animal Biology and Genetics, University of Florence, Florence, Italy, Via del Proconsolo 12, 50122 Florence, Italy (formerly at NCI, Frederick)

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2007, 7:6  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-7-6

Published: 23 January 2007



Sirenia (manatees, dugongs and Stellar's sea cow) have no evolutionary relationship with other marine mammals, despite similarities in adaptations and body shape. Recent phylogenomic results place Sirenia in Afrotheria and with elephants and rock hyraxes in Paenungulata. Sirenia and Hyracoidea are the two afrotherian orders as yet unstudied by comparative molecular cytogenetics. Here we report on the chromosome painting of the Florida manatee.


The human autosomal and X chromosome paints delimited a total of 44 homologous segments in the manatee genome. The synteny of nine of the 22 human autosomal chromosomes (4, 5, 6, 9, 11, 14, 17, 18 and 20) and the X chromosome were found intact in the manatee. The syntenies of other human chromosomes were disrupted in the manatee genome into two to five segments. The hybridization pattern revealed that 20 (15 unique) associations of human chromosome segments are found in the manatee genome: 1/15, 1/19, 2/3 (twice), 3/7 (twice), 3/13, 3/21, 5/21, 7/16, 8/22, 10/12 (twice), 11/20, 12/22 (three times), 14/15, 16/19 and 18/19.


There are five derived chromosome traits that strongly link elephants with manatees in Tethytheria and give implicit support to Paenungulata: the associations 2/3, 3/13, 8/22, 18/19 and the loss of the ancestral eutherian 4/8 association. It would be useful to test these conclusions with chromosome painting in hyraxes. The manatee chromosome painting data confirm that the associations 1/19 and 5/21 phylogenetically link afrotherian species and show that Afrotheria is a natural clade. The association 10/12/22 is also ubiquitous in Afrotheria (clade I), present in Laurasiatheria (clade IV), only partially present in Xenarthra (10/12, clade II) and absent in Euarchontoglires (clade III). If Afrotheria is basal to eutherians, this association could be part of the ancestral eutherian karyotype. If afrotherians are not at the root of the eutherian tree, then the 10/12/22 association could be one of a suite of derived associations linking afrotherian taxa.