Background: Microsatellite loci have high mutation rates and thus are indicative of mutational processes within the genome. By concentrating on the symbiotic and aposymbiotic cnidarians, we investigated if microsatellite abundances follow a phylogenetic or ecological pattern. Individuals from eight species were shotgun sequenced using 454 GS-FLX Titanium technology. Sequences from the three available cnidarian genomes (Nematostella vectensis, Hydra magnipapillata and Acropora digitifera) were added to the analysis for a total of eleven species representing two classes, three subclasses and eight orders within the phylum Cnidaria. Results: Trinucleotide and tetranucleotide repeats were the most abundant motifs, followed by hexa- and dinucleotides. Pentanucleotides were the least abundant motif in the data set. Hierarchical clustering and log likelihood ratio tests revealed a weak relationship between phylogeny and microsatellite content. Further, comparisons between cnidaria harboring intracellular dinoflagellates and those that do not, show microsatellite coverage is higher in the latter group. Conclusions: Our results support previous studies that found tri- and tetranucleotides to be the most abundant motifs in invertebrates. Differences in microsatellite coverage and composition between symbiotic and non-symbiotic cnidaria suggest the presence/absence of dinoflagellates might place restrictions on the host genome.
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