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      Museum specimens as Noah’s Arc of lost genes. The case of a rhinoceros from Sumatra in the Zoological Museum Hamburg

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      Evolutionary Systematics

      Pensoft Publishers

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          Abstract

          Understanding past and present genetic diversity, in particular in endangered species such as the rhinoceroses, is of paramount importance for a series of aspects in natural history, evolutionary systematics and conservation. As it turned out from several recent studies even in eminent museum specimens the historical context including its provenance often remains unresolved. At the same time modern molecular genetic techniques make this material more and more available also for integrative studies. With probably less than fifty extant specimens, among the Asian rhinoceroses the Javan rhinoceros, Rhinoceros sondaicus, is one of the most critically endangered mammal species, rendering also each of its rare museum specimens of great significance. We here apply available DNA isolation and sequencing techniques to a horn of a specimen housed at the Zoological Museum in Hamburg with indication as to derive from the extinct conspecific Sumatra population. In comparison with already existing mitochondrial gene fragment sequence data of Asian rhino populations, we were able to verify the identification of this particular museum specimen as of the nearly equally rare Sumatran rhinoceros, Dicerorhinus sumatrensis, instead as of the extremely rare R. sondaicus.

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          Back to the future: museum specimens in population genetics.

          Museums and other natural history collections (NHC) worldwide house millions of specimens. With the advent of molecular genetic approaches these collections have become the source of many fascinating population studies in conservation genetics that contrast historical with present-day genetic diversity. Recent developments in molecular genetics and genomics and the associated statistical tools have opened up the further possibility of studying evolutionary change directly. As we discuss here, we believe that NHC specimens provide a largely underutilized resource for such investigations. However, because DNA extracted from NHC samples is degraded, analyses of such samples are technically demanding and many potential pitfalls exist. Thus, we propose a set of guidelines that outline the steps necessary to begin genetic investigations using specimens from NHC.
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            Mitogenomic relationships of placental mammals and molecular estimates of their divergences.

            Molecular analyses of the relationships of placental mammals have shown a progressive congruence between mitogenomic and nuclear phylogenies. Some inconsistencies have nevertheless persisted, notably with respect to basal divergences. The current study has aimed to extend the representation of groups, whose position in the placental tree has been difficult to establish in mitogenomic studies. Both ML (maximum likelihood) and Bayesian analyses identified four basal monophyletic groups, Afroplacentalia (=Afrotheria: Hyracoidea, Proboscidea, Sirenia, Tenrecidea, Tubulidentata, Macroscelidea, Chrysochloridea), Xenarthra, Archontoglires (Primates, Dermoptera, Scandentia, Lagomorpha, Rodentia) and Laurasiaplacentalia (Lipotyphla, Chiroptera, Pholidota, Carnivora, Perissodactyla, Artiodactyla, Cetacea). All analyses joined Archontoglires and Laurasiaplacentalia on a common branch (Boreoplacentalia), but the relationship between Afroplacentalia, Xenarthra and Boreoplacentalia was not conclusively resolved. The phylogenomic hypothesis with a sister group relationship between Notoplacentalia (Afroplacentalia/Xenarthra) and Boreoplacentalia served as the basis for estimating the times of placental divergences using paleontologically well-supported mammalian calibration points. These estimates placed the basal placental divergence between Boreoplacentalia and Notoplacentalia at approximately 102 MYA (million years ago). The current estimates of ordinal placental divergences are congruent with recent estimates based on nuclear data, but inconsistent with paleontological notions that have placed the origin of essentially all placental orders within an interval of 5-10 MY in the early Tertiary. Among less deep divergences the estimates placed the split between Gorilla and Pan/Homo at approximately 11.5 MYA and that between Pan and Homo at approximately 8 MYA. As a consequence of these estimates, which are in accord with recent progress in primate paleontology, the earliest divergences among recent humans become placed approximately 270,000 years ago, i.e. approximately 100,000 years earlier than the traditional age of "Mitochondrial Eve". Comparison between the two new mt genomes of Hylomys suillus (short-tailed gymnure) patently demonstrates the inconsistency that may exist between taxonomic designations and molecular difference, as the distance between these two supposedly conspecific genomes exceeds that of the three elephantid genera Elephas, Mammuthus and Loxodonta. In accordance with the progressive use of the term Placentalia for extant orders and extinct taxa falling within this group we forward new proposals for the names of some superordinal clades of placental mammals.
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              Analysis of complete mitochondrial genomes from extinct and extant rhinoceroses reveals lack of phylogenetic resolution

              Background The scientific literature contains many examples where DNA sequence analyses have been used to provide definitive answers to phylogenetic problems that traditional (non-DNA based) approaches alone have failed to resolve. One notable example concerns the rhinoceroses, a group for which several contradictory phylogenies were proposed on the basis of morphology, then apparently resolved using mitochondrial DNA fragments. Results In this study we report the first complete mitochondrial genome sequences of the extinct ice-age woolly rhinoceros (Coelodonta antiquitatis), and the threatened Javan (Rhinoceros sondaicus), Sumatran (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis), and black (Diceros bicornis) rhinoceroses. In combination with the previously published mitochondrial genomes of the white (Ceratotherium simum) and Indian (Rhinoceros unicornis) rhinoceroses, this data set putatively enables reconstruction of the rhinoceros phylogeny. While the six species cluster into three strongly supported sister-pairings: (i) The black/white, (ii) the woolly/Sumatran, and (iii) the Javan/Indian, resolution of the higher-level relationships has no statistical support. The phylogenetic signal from individual genes is highly diffuse, with mixed topological support from different genes. Furthermore, the choice of outgroup (horse vs tapir) has considerable effect on reconstruction of the phylogeny. The lack of resolution is suggestive of a hard polytomy at the base of crown-group Rhinocerotidae, and this is supported by an investigation of the relative branch lengths. Conclusion Satisfactory resolution of the rhinoceros phylogeny may not be achievable without additional analyses of substantial amounts of nuclear DNA. This study provides a compelling demonstration that, in spite of substantial sequence length, there are significant limitations with single-locus phylogenetics. We expect further examples of this to appear as next-generation, large-scale sequencing of complete mitochondrial genomes becomes commonplace in evolutionary studies. "The human factor in classification is nowhere more evident than in dealing with this superfamily (Rhinocerotoidea)." G. G. Simpson (1945)
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                Author and article information

                Journal
                Evolutionary Systematics
                EvolSyst
                Pensoft Publishers
                2535-0730
                December 15 2017
                December 15 2017
                : 1
                : 1
                : 121-128
                Article
                10.3897/evolsyst.1.20172
                © 2017

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