Springer Online Journal Archives 1860-2000
Abstract The first application of molecular systematics to sponges was in the 1980s, using allozyme divergence to dis-criminate between conspecific and congeneric sponge populations. Since this time, a fairly large database has been accumulated and, although the first findings seemed to indicate that sponge species were genetically more divergent than those of other marine invertebrates, a recent review of the available dataset indicates that levels of interspecific gene identities in most sponges fall within the normal range found between species of other invertebrates. Nevertheless, some sponge genera have species that are extremely divergent from each other, suggesting a possible polyphyly of these genera. In the 1990s, molecular studies comparing sequences of ribosomal RNA have been used to reappraise the phylogenetic relationships among sponge genera, families, orders and classes. Both the 18S small subunit and the 28S large subunit rRNA genes have been sequenced (41 complete or partial and 75 partial sequences, respectively). Sequences of 18S rRNA show good support for Porifera being true Metazoa, but they are not informative for resolving relationships among genera, families or orders. 28S rRNA domains D1 and D2 appear to be more informative for the terminal nodes and provide resolution for internal topologies in sufficiently closely related species, but the deep nodes between orders or classes cannot be resolved using this molecule. Recently, a more conserved gene, Hsp70, has been used to try to resolve the relationships in the deep nodes. Metazoan monophyly is very well supported. Nevertheless, the divergence between the three classes of Porifera, as well as the divergence between Porifera, Cnidaria and Ctenophora, is not resolved. Research is in progress using other genes such as those of the homeodomain, the tyrosine kinase domain, and those coding for the aggregation factor. For the moment the dataset for these genes is too restricted to resolve the phylogenetic relationships of these phyla. However, whichever the genes, the phylogenies obtained suggest that Porifera could be paraphyletic and that the phylogenetic relationships of most of the families and orders of the Demospongiae have to be reassessed. The Calcarea and Hexactinellida are still to be studied at the molecular level.
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