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The chaetognaths are an extraordinarily homogeneous phylum of animals at the morphological level, with a bauplan that can be traced back to the Cambrian. Despite the attention of zoologists for over two centuries, there is little agreement on classification within the phylum. We have used a molecular biological approach to investigate the phylogeny of extant chaetognaths. A rapidly evolving expansion segment toward the 5' end of 28S ribosomal DNA (rDNA) was amplified using the polymerase chain reaction (PCR), cloned, and sequenced from 26 chaetognath samples representing 18 species. An unusual finding was the presence of two distinct classes of 28S rDNA gene in chaetognaths; our analyses suggest these arose by a gene (or gene cluster) duplication in a common ancestor of extant chaetognaths. The two classes of chaetognath 28S rDNA have been subject to different rates of molecular evolution; we present evidence that both are expressed and functional. In phylogenetic reconstructions, the two classes of 28S rDNA yield trees that root each other; these clearly demonstrate that the Aphragmophora and Phragmophora are natural groups. Within the Aphragmophora, we find good support for the groupings denoted Solidosagitta, Parasagitta, and Pseudosagitta. The relationships between several well-supported groups within the Aphragmophora are uncertain; we suggest this reflects rapid, recent radiation during chaetognath evolution.


Journal article


J Mol Evol

Publication Date





135 - 144


Animals, Base Sequence, DNA, Ribosomal, Evolution, Molecular, Invertebrates, Molecular Sequence Data, Multigene Family, Nucleic Acid Conformation, Phylogeny, Pseudogenes, RNA, Ribosomal, 28S