10 October 2017
Paratetraonchoides inermis (Monogenea: Tetraonchoididae) is a flatworm parasitising the gills of uranoscopid fishes. Its morphological characteristics are ambiguous, and molecular data have never been used to study its phylogenetic relationships, which makes its taxonomic classification controversial. Also, several decades of unsuccessful attempts to resolve the relationships within the Monogenea present a strong indication that morphological datasets may not be robust enough to be used to infer evolutionary histories. As the use of molecular data is currently severely limited by their scarcity, we have sequenced and characterized the complete mitochondrial (mt) genome of P. inermis. To investigate its phylogenetic position, we performed phylogenetic analyses using Bayesian inference and maximum likelihood approaches using concatenated amino acid sequences of all 12 protein-coding genes on a dataset containing all available monogenean mt genomes.
The circular mt genome of P. inermis (14,654 bp) contains the standard 36 genes: 22 tRNAs, two rRNAs, 12 protein-encoding genes (PCGs; Atp8 is missing) and a major non-coding region (mNCR). All genes are transcribed from the same strand. The A + T content of the whole genome (82.6%), as well as its elements, is the highest reported among the monogeneans thus far. Three tRNA-like cloverleaf structures were found in mNCR. Several results of the phylogenomic analysis are in disagreement with previously proposed relationships: instead of being closely related to the Gyrodactylidea, Tetraonchidea exhibit a phylogenetic affinity with the Dactylogyridea + Capsalidea clade; and the order Capsalidea is neither basal within the subclass Monopisthocotylea, nor groups with the Gyrodactylidea, but instead forms a sister clade with the Dactylogyridea. The mt genome of P. inermis exhibits a unique gene order, with an extensive reorganization of tRNAs. Monogenea exhibit exceptional gene order plasticity within the Neodermata.
This study shows that gene order within monopisthocotylid mt genomes is evolving at uneven rates, which creates misleading evolutionary signals. Furthermore, our results indicate that all previous attempts to resolve the evolutionary history of the Monogenea may have produced at least partially erroneous relationships. This further corroborates the necessity to generate more molecular data for this group of parasitic animals.