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Genetic analysis rewrites salamander's evolutionary history

's Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, and over a two-year period worked with JGI researchers to sequence the brief genomes. Once Mueller annotated the genomes, that is, identified the genes, she compared the complete genome sequences with three other known mitochondrial genomes, for a total sample of 27 species. Using Bayesian statistical techniques, she was able to reconstruct a "robust" family tree of the Plethodontid salamanders.

One feature that has been used to classify salamanders is their larval stage, much like the tadpole stage of frogs. The ancestral Plethdontid salamanders, like all other salamanders, apparently went through a larval stage in fresh water, where the eggs are laid, before losing their gills and swimming tails and emerging onto land. Salamanders that evolved to live totally out of the water, however, lost the larval stage, emerging from the egg as a smaller version of an adult.

The new family tree shows, however, that some terrestrial salamanders regained their larval stage after moving back to the water. This may have happened in three separate lineages of Plethodontids, which is surprising for a seemingly complex feature biologists have assumed arose just once, very early in the history of salamanders.

Tongues also are distinctive in plethodontid salamanders, coming in three different types: ones attached to the jaw so they stick out only slightly; tongues attached by a stretchy muscle, which allows them to be thrown out an appreciable distance to snag food; and so-called "ballistic" tongues that have no muscular attachment at the tip and can be hurled out nearly the length of the salamander's body. Wake has shown in previous studies that these tongues are not a good way to classify salamanders, because the various types of tongues have evolved several times in different lineages. The new data confirm that, Mueller said.

Mueller's coauthors, in addition to Wake, include Jeffrey L. Boore, adjunct professor of inte
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Contact: Robert Sanders
rls@pa.urel.berkeley.edu
510-643-6998
University of California - Berkeley
13-Sep-2004


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