An updated and comprehensive phylogeny of the rRNA crown eukaryotes based on rate calibrated evolutionary distances.

Recent experience with molecular phylogeny has shown that all molecular markers have strengths and weaknesses. Nonetheless, despite several notable discrepancies with phylogenies obtained from protein data, the merits of the small subunit ribosomal RNA (SSU rRNA) as a molecular phylogenetic marker remain indisputable. Over the last 10 to 15 years a massive SSU rRNA database has been gathered, including more then 3000 complete sequences from eukaryotes. This creates a huge computational challenge, which is exacerbated by phenomena such as extensive rate variation among sites in the molecule. A few years ago, a fast phylogenetic method was developed that takes into account among-site rate variation in the estimation of evolutionary distances. This "substitution rate calibration" (SRC) method not only corrects for a major source of artifacts in phylogeny reconstruction but, because it is based on a distance approach, allows comprehensive trees including thousands of sequences to be constructed in a reasonable amount of time. In this study, a nucleotide variability map and a phylogenetic tree were constructed, using the SRC method, based on all available (January 2000) complete SSU rRNA sequences (2551) for species belonging to the so-called eukaryotic crown. The resulting phylogeny constitutes the most complete description of overall eukaryote diversity and relationships to date. Furthermore, branch lengths estimated with the SRC method better reflect the huge differences in evolutionary rates among and within eukaryotic lineages. The ribosomal RNA tree is compared with a recent protein phylogeny obtained from concatenated actin, alpha-tubulin, beta-tubulin, and elongation factor 1-alpha amino acid sequences. A consensus phylogeny of the eukaryotic crown based on currently available molecular data is discussed, as well as specific problems encountered in analyzing sequences when large differences in substitution rate are present, either between different sequences (rate variation among lineages) or between different positions within the same sequence (among-site rate variation).

Van de Peer, Y., Baldauf, S., Doolittle, W.F., Meyer, A. (2000) An updated and comprehensive phylogeny of the rRNA crown eukaryotes based on rate calibrated evolutionary distances. J. Mol. Evol. 51(6):565-76.

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