Evolution of the mitochondrial genome of Metazoa as exemplified by comparison of congeneric species

C. Gissi, F. Iannelli, G. Pesole

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The mitochondrial genome (mtDNA) of Metazoa is a good model system for evolutionary genomic studies and the availability of more than 1000 sequences provides an almost unique opportunity to decode the mechanisms of genome evolution over a large phylogenetic range. In this paper, we review several structural features of the metazoan mtDNA, such as gene content, genome size, genome architecture and the new parameter of gene strand asymmetry in a phylogenetic framework. The data reviewed here show that: (1) the plasticity of Metazoa mtDNA is higher than previously thought and mainly due to variation in number and location of tRNA genes; (2) an exceptional trend towards stabilization of genomic features occurred in deuterostomes and was exacerbated in vertebrates, where gene content, genome architecture and gene strand asymmetry are almost invariant. Only tunicates exhibit a very high degree of genome variability comparable to that found outside deuterostomes. In order to analyse the genomic evolutionary process at short evolutionary distances, we have also compared mtDNAs of species belonging to the same genus: the variability observed in congeneric species significantly recapitulates the evolutionary dynamics observed at higher taxonomic ranks, especially for taxa showing high levels of genome plasticity and/or fast nucleotide substitution rates. Thus, the analysis of congeneric species promises to be a valuable approach for the assessment of the mtDNA evolutionary trend in poorly or not yet sampled metazoan groups.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)301-320
Number of pages20
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2008


  • Comparative genomics
  • Congeneric species
  • Evolution
  • Metazoans
  • mtDNA

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics
  • Genetics(clinical)


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