Extensive Pyrosequencing Reveals Frequent Intra-Genomic Variations of Internal Transcribed Spacer Regions of Nuclear Ribosomal DNA

Jingyuan Song, Linchun Shi, Dezhu Li, Yongzhen Sun, Yunyun Niu, Zhiduan Chen, Hongmei Luo, Xiaohui Pang, Zhiying Sun, Chang Liu*, Aiping LYU, Youping Deng, Zachary Larson-Rabin, Mike Wilkinson, Shilin Chen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

134 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Internal transcribed spacer of nuclear ribosomal DNA (nrDNA) is already one of the most popular phylogenetic and DNA barcoding markers. However, the existence of its multiple copies has complicated such usage and a detailed characterization of intra-genomic variations is critical to address such concerns. Methodology/Principal Findings: In this study, we used sequence-tagged pyrosequencing and genome-wide analyses to characterize intra-genomic variations of internal transcribed spacer 2 (ITS2) regions from 178 plant species. We discovered that mutation of ITS2 is frequent, with a mean of 35 variants per species. And on average, three of the most abundant variants make up 91% of all ITS2 copies. Moreover, we found different congeneric species share identical variants in 13 genera. Interestingly, different species across different genera also share identical variants. In particular, one minor variant of ITS2 in Eleutherococcus giraldii was found identical to the ITS2 major variant of Panax ginseng, both from Araliaceae family. In addition, DNA barcoding gap analysis showed that the intra-genomic distances were markedly smaller than those of the intra-specific or inter-specific variants. When each of 5543 variants were examined for its species discrimination efficiency, a 97% success rate was obtained at the species level. Conclusions: Identification of identical ITS2 variants across intra-generic or inter-generic species revealed complex species evolutionary history, possibly, horizontal gene transfer and ancestral hybridization. Although intra-genomic multiple variants are frequently found within each genome, the usage of the major variants alone is sufficient for phylogeny construction and species determination in most cases. Furthermore, the inclusion of minor variants further improves the resolution of species identification.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere43971
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 30 Aug 2012

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • General


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