Relationships among the Families and Orders of Marsupials and the Major Mammalian Lineages Based on Recombination Activating Gene-1
Michelle L. Baker,1,3 John P. Wares,1 Gavan A. Harrison,2 and Robert D. Miller1
1Department of Biology, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA.
2School of Science, Food and Horticulture, University of Western Sydney, Penrith South DC, New South Wales, Australia.
Controversies remain over the relationships among several of the marsupial families and between the three major extant lineages of mammals: Eutheria (placentals), Metatheria (marsupials), and Prototheria (monotremes). Two opposing hypotheses place the marsupials as either sister to the placental mammals (Theria hypothesis) or sister to the monotremes (Palimpsest or Marsupionta hypothesis). A nuclear gene that has proved useful for analyzing phylogenies of vertebrates is the recombination activation gene-1 (RAG1). RAG1 is a highly conserved gene in vertebrates and likely entered the genome by horizontal transfer early in the evolution of jawed vertebrates. Phylogenetic analyses were performed on RAG1 sequences from seven placentals, 28 marsupials, and all three living monotreme species. Phylogenetic analyses of RAG1 sequences support many of the traditional relationships among the marsupials and suggest a relationship between bandicoots (order Peramelina) and the marsupial mole (order Notoryctemorphia), two lineages whose position in the phylogenetic tree has been enigmatic. A sister relationship between South American shrew opossums (order Paucituberculata) and all other living marsupial orders is also suggested by RAG1. The relationship between the three major groups of mammals is consistent with the Theria hypothesis, with the monotremes as the sister group to a clade containing marsupials and placentals.