Journal Article

Evolution of Extensively Fragmented Mitochondrial Genomes in the Lice of Humans

Renfu Shao, Xing-Quan Zhu, Stephen C. Barker and Kate Herd

in Genome Biology and Evolution

Published on behalf of Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution

Volume 4, issue 11, pages 1088-1101
Published in print January 2012 |
Published online October 2012 | e-ISSN: 1759-6653 | DOI:

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  • Bioinformatics and Computational Biology
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Bilateral animals are featured by an extremely compact mitochondrial (mt) genome with 37 genes on a single circular chromosome. The human body louse, Pediculus humanus, however, has its mt genes on 20 minichromosomes. We sequenced the mt genomes of two other human lice: the head louse, P. capitis, and the pubic louse, Pthirus pubis. Comparison among the three human lice revealed the presence of fragmented mt genomes in their most recent common ancestor, which lived ∼7 Ma. The head louse has exactly the same set of mt minichromosomes as the body louse, indicating that the number of minichromosomes, and the gene content and gene arrangement in each minichromosome have remained unchanged since the body louse evolved from the head louse ∼107,000 years ago. The pubic louse has the same pattern of one protein-coding or rRNA gene per minichromosome (except one minichromosome with two protein-coding genes, atp6 and atp8) as the head louse and the body louse. This pattern is apparently ancestral to all human lice and has been stable for at least 7 Myr. Most tRNA genes of the pubic louse, however, are on different minichromosomes when compared with their counterparts in the head louse and the body louse. It is evident that rearrangement of four tRNA genes (for leucine, arginine and glycine) was due to gene-identity switch by point mutation at the third anticodon position or by homologous recombination, whereas rearrangement of other tRNA genes was by gene translocation between minichromosomes, likely caused by minichromosome split via gene degeneration and deletion.

Keywords: mitochondrial genome; chromosome evolution; genome fragmentation; human lice

Journal Article.  6170 words.  Illustrated.

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

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