Gene tree parsimony of multilocus snake venom protein families reveals species tree conflict as a result of multiple parallel gene loss

Nicholas R Casewell, Simon C Wagstaff, Robert A Harrison, Wolfgang Wüster

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The proliferation of gene data from multiple loci of large multigene families has been greatly facilitated by considerable recent advances in sequence generation. The evolution of such gene families, which often undergo complex histories and different rates of change, combined with increases in sequence data, pose complex problems for traditional phylogenetic analyses, and in particular, those that aim to successfully recover species relationships from gene trees. Here, we implement gene tree parsimony analyses on multicopy gene family data sets of snake venom proteins for two separate groups of taxa, incorporating Bayesian posterior distributions as a rigorous strategy to account for the uncertainty present in gene trees. Gene tree parsimony largely failed to infer species trees congruent with each other or with species phylogenies derived from mitochondrial and single-copy nuclear sequences. Analysis of four toxin gene families from a large expressed sequence tag data set from the viper genus Echis failed to produce a consistent topology, and reanalysis of a previously published gene tree parsimony data set, from the family Elapidae, suggested that species tree topologies were predominantly unsupported. We suggest that gene tree parsimony failure in the family Elapidae is likely the result of unequal and/or incomplete sampling of paralogous genes and demonstrate that multiple parallel gene losses are likely responsible for the significant species tree conflict observed in the genus Echis. These results highlight the potential for gene tree parsimony analyses to be undermined by rapidly evolving multilocus gene families under strong natural selection.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1157-72
Number of pages16
JournalMolecular Biology and Evolution
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2011


  • Animals
  • Bayes Theorem
  • DNA, Mitochondrial
  • Elapidae
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Expressed Sequence Tags
  • Gene Deletion
  • Gene Dosage
  • Gene Duplication
  • Models, Genetic
  • Multilocus Sequence Typing
  • Phylogeny
  • Selection, Genetic
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA
  • Snake Venoms
  • Species Specificity
  • Viperidae


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