Journal Article

Genome Networks Root the Tree of Life between Prokaryotic Domains

Tal Dagan, Mayo Roettger, David Bryant and William Martin

in Genome Biology and Evolution

Published on behalf of Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution

Volume 2, issue , pages 379-392
Published in print January 2010 |
Published online May 2010 | e-ISSN: 1759-6653 | DOI:

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  • Bioinformatics and Computational Biology
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Eukaryotes arose from prokaryotes, hence the root in the tree of life resides among the prokaryotic domains. The position of the root is still debated, although pinpointing it would aid our understanding of the early evolution of life. Because prokaryote evolution was long viewed as a tree-like process of lineage bifurcations, efforts to identify the most ancient microbial lineage split have traditionally focused on positioning a root on a phylogenetic tree constructed from one or several genes. Such studies have delivered widely conflicting results on the position of the root, this being mainly due to methodological problems inherent to deep gene phylogeny and the workings of lateral gene transfer among prokaryotes over evolutionary time. Here, we report the position of the root determined with whole genome data using network-based procedures that take into account both gene presence or absence and the level of sequence similarity among all individual gene families that are shared across genomes. On the basis of 562,321 protein-coding gene families distributed across 191 genomes, we find that the deepest divide in the prokaryotic world is interdomain, that is, separating the archaebacteria from the eubacteria. This result resonates with some older views but conflicts with the results of most studies over the last decade that have addressed the issue. In particular, several studies have suggested that the molecular distinctness of archaebacteria is not evidence for their antiquity relative to eubacteria but instead stems from some kind of inherently elevated rate of archaebacterial sequence change. Here, we specifically test for such a rate elevation across all prokaryotic lineages through the analysis of all possible quartets among eight genes duplicated in all prokaryotes, hence the last common ancestor thereof. The results show that neither the archaebacteria as a group nor the eubacteria as a group harbor evidence for elevated evolutionary rates in the sampled genes, either in the recent evolutionary past or in their common ancestor. The interdomain prokaryotic position of the root is thus not attributable to lineage-specific rate variation.

Keywords: phylogenies; early evolution; tree of life; microbial genomics; lateral gene transfer

Journal Article.  8025 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Bioinformatics and Computational Biology ; Evolutionary Biology ; Genetics and Genomics

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