The Mystery of the Chaetognatha: A Molecular Phylogenetic Approach Using Pelagic Chaetognath Species on Pelican Island, Galveston, Texas



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The phylum Chaetognatha is a mysterious group of organisms that has eluded scientists for more than a century because of their unique morphology and developmental characteristics, i.e. protostome (mouth develops from blastopore; e.g. mollusks, annelids, arthropods) versus deuterostome (anus develops from blastopore; e.g. echinoderms and chordates) offer few clues to their evolutionary origins. Some early morphological studies argued that chaetognaths were derived mollusks or nematodes according to gross ultrastructural data, while other studies focused on the coelomic cavity. 33 Although 18S rRNA is widely used in molecular phylogeny studies, it has limits such as long- branch chain attractions and a slow rate of evolutionary change. Long-branch chain attractions are a phenomenon in phylogenetic analyses when rapidly evolving lineages are inferred to be closely related, regardless of their true evolutionary relationships. Hence other genes are used in this study to complement the 18S rRNA such as the cytochrome oxidase genes. The cytochrome oxidase genes are highly conserved throughout all eukaryotic organisms and they are less ambiguous to align as compared to the ribosomal genes, making them better phylogenetic markers as compared to the 18S rRNA gene. This study focuses on using a molecular approach (ARDRA, PCR, phylogenetic tree reconstruction) to determine the phylogeny of pelagic chaetognaths found on Pelican Island, Galveston, Texas. 18S rRNA, Cytochrome Oxidase I and Cytochrome Oxidase II genes were used to help decipher the phylogeny of this group. All analyzed genes in this study (18S rRNA, COI, and COII) grouped the Pelican Island chaetognaths with the protostomes. The maximum parsimony bootstrap tree for the 18S rRNA gene, grouped the samples closest to the arthropods (protostome). For the COI and COII genes, the minimum evolution bootstrap tree grouped the 8 collected samples more closely to two other protostome phyla: the mollusks and annelids (COI) while bootstrapping with the COII grouped the samples with the nematodes (with >66 percent bootstrap). My findings are significant because they reveal phylogenetic results of a protostome lineage for the Chaetognatha using 3 genes, one of which (COII) has not been greatly studied for the Chaetognatha.