Widespread use of the "ascidian" mitochondrial genetic code in tunicatesMore about Open Access at the Crick
Authors listJulien Pichon Nicholas Luscombe Charles Plessy
Background: Ascidians, a tunicate class, use a mitochondrial genetic code that is distinct from vertebrates and other invertebrates. Though it has been used to translate the coding sequences from other tunicate species on a case-by-case basis, it is has not been investigated whether this can be done systematically. This is an important because a) some tunicate mitochondrial sequences are currently translated with the invertebrate code by repositories such as NCBI GenBank, and b) uncertainties about the genetic code to use can complicate or introduce errors in phylogenetic studies based on translated mitochondrial protein sequences. Methods: We collected publicly available nucleotide sequences for non-ascidian tunicates including appendicularians such as Oikopleura dioica, translated them using the ascidian mitochondrial code, and built multiple sequence alignments covering all tunicate classes. Results: All tunicates studied here appear to translate AGR codons to glycine instead of serine (invertebrates) or as a stop codon (vertebrates), as initially described in ascidians. Among Oikopleuridae, we suggest further possible changes in the use of the ATA (Ile → Met) and TGA (Trp → Arg) codons. Conclusions: We recommend using the ascidian mitochondrial code in automatic translation pipelines of mitochondrial sequences for all tunicates. Further investigation is required for additional species-specific differences.