The subphylum Cephalochordata (lancelets) is a relatively small taxonomic group in contrast to the subphyla Urochordata and Vertebrata. As an initial step to determine whether lancelets exhibit small genetic divergence in keeping with their conservative body organization or large genetic variation, four Branchiostoma species from the Pacific (B. belcheri and B. malayanum) and Atlantic (B. floridae and B. lanceolatum) Oceans were genetically compared using partial mitochondrial DNA sequences of the cyto-chrome oxidase c subunit I (COI) and 16S ribosomal RNA (16S rRNA) genes. In both genes, large genetic differences were revealed between the Pacific and Atlantic species, as well as within the former. Two maximum-likelihood trees from the COI and 16S rRNA genes showed that the Pacific and Atlantic lancelets were reciprocally clustered into different clades. Furthermore, both gene trees consistently exhibited deep phylogenetic separation between the two oceans. The estimated divergence time suggested that differentiation may have followed the migration of ancestral lancelets from the Pacific to the Atlantic Oceans via the Tethys Sea.
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