Alcyonium may be of hybrid origin

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The octocoral genus Alcyonium may have evolved through hybridisation, according to a new molecular study due to be published next month.

Two scientists from the Department of Biology at Harvey Mudd College in the USA will provide new evidence in the journal Molecular Ecology to show that Alcyonium may have arisen through the crossing of the European soft corals Alcyonium hibernicum and Bellonella bocagei.

McFadden and Hutchinson looked at polymorphic and recombinant sequences in the multicopy ribosomal internal transcribed spacer (ITS) region of the corals' DNA. They cloned sequences from related corals in the group and reconstructed a phylogeny which shows that four related corals may have arisen by cross-breeding with each other in the distant past.

McFadden and Hutchinson say that the corals are split into two distinct clades: "All A. coralloides sequences belonged to clade A, while A. sp. M2 had only clade B sequences. A majority of A. hibernicum individuals, however, contained both clade A and B sequences that were identical to the predominant sequence variants found in A. coralloides and A. sp. M2, respectively. "

The paper is due to be published in the next issue of Molecular Ecology: McFadden CS, Hutchinson MB. (2004) - Molecular evidence for the hybrid origin of species in the soft coral genus Alcyonium (Cnidaria: Anthozoa: Octocorallia). Mol Ecol. 2004 Jun;13(6):1495-505.