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Selection and paucity of phylogenetic signal challenge the utility of alpha-tubulin in reconstruction of evolutionary history of free-living litostomateans (Protista, Ciliophora)

Rajter, Ľubomír, Vďačný, Peter
Molecular phylogenetics and evolution 2018 v.127 pp. 534-544
Litostomatea, amino acids, genes, genetic markers, monophyly, parallel evolution, protists, ribosomal RNA, tubulin
The class Litostomatea represents a highly diverse but monophyletic group, uniting both free-living and endosymbiotic ciliates. Ribosomal RNA genes and ITS-region sequences helped to recognize and define the main litostomatean lineages, but did not provide enough phylogenetic signal to unambiguously resolve their interrelationships. In this study, we attempted to improve the resolution among main free-living predatory lineages by adding the gene coding for alpha-tubulin. However, our phylogenetic analyses challenged the performance of alpha-tubulin in reconstruction of evolutionary history of free-living litostomateans. We identified several mutually interconnected problems associated with the ciliate alpha-tubulin gene: the paucity of phylogenetic signal, molecular homoplasies and non-neutral evolution. Positive selection may generate molecular homoplasies (parallel evolution), while negative selection may cause a small number of changes and hence little phylogenetic informativness. Both problems were encountered in nucleotide and amino acid alpha-tubulin alignments, indicating an action of various selective pressures. Taking into account the involvement of alpha-tubulin in many essential biological processes, this protein could be so strongly affected by purifying selection that it even might have become an inappropriate molecular marker for reconstruction of phylogenetic relationships. Therefore, a great caution should be paid when tubulin genes are included in phylogenetic and/or phylogenomic analyses.