Mitochondrial pseudogenes are pervasive and often insidious in the snapping shrimp genus Alpheus. Academic Article uri icon


  • Here we show that multiple DNA sequences, similar to the mitochondrial cytochrome oxidase I (COI) gene, occur within single individuals in at least 10 species of the snapping shrimp genus Alpheus. Cloning of amplified products revealed the presence of copies that differed in length and (more frequently) in base substitutions. Although multiple copies were amplified in individual shrimp from total genomic DNA (gDNA), only one sequence was amplified from cDNA. These results are best explained by the presence of nonfunctional duplications of a portion of the mtDNA, probably located in the nuclear genome, since transfer into the nuclear gene would render the COI gene nonfunctional due to differences in the nuclear and mitochondrial genetic codes. Analysis of codon variation suggests that there have been 21 independent transfer events in the 10 species examined. Within a single animal, differences between the sequences of these pseudogenes ranged from 0.2% to 20.6%, and those between the real mtDNA and pseudogene sequences ranged from 0.2% to 18.8% (uncorrected). The large number of integration events and the large range of divergences between pseudogenes and mtDNA sequences suggest that genetic material has been repeatedly transferred from the mtDNA to the nuclear genome of snapping shrimp. Unrecognized pseudogenes in phylogenetic or population studies may result in spurious results, although previous estimates of rates of molecular evolution based on Alpheus sister taxa separated by the Isthmus of Panama appear to remain valid. Especially worrisome for researchers are those pseudogenes that are not obviously recognizable as such. An effective solution may be to amplify transcribed copies of protein-coding mitochondrial genes from cDNA rather than using genomic DNA.

publication date

  • August 2001