Genetic Diversity of Fluorescent Proteins in Caribbean Agariciid Corals

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The fluorescent protein (FP) gene family is a highly diverse group of proteins whose expression govern color diversity in corals. Here, we examine the genetic diversity of FPs and the extent to which it can be used to assess phylogenetic relationships within the coral genus Agaricia. Tissue samples were collected throughout the Florida Keys from a wide range of phenotypes within the genus Agaricia (A. agaricites [n = 7], A. fragilis [n = 13], and A. lamarcki [n = 2]), as well as the confamilial species Helioseris cucullata (n = 3). Primers were developed from published cDNA sequences to amplify a region of coding and noncoding sequences of FPs. Cloning reactions were performed to capture the multiple copies of FPs and allele diversity. In the resulting 116 cloned sequences, we identified a 179-bp coding region for phylogenetic analysis. Three distinct clades were found in all 3 species of Agaricia, potentially representing 3 copies of the FP gene. Of the 3 gene copies, 2 contain distinct subclades that display reciprocal monophyly between A. agaricites and A. fragilis, whereas A. lamarcki is polyphyletic. Further resolution of the species phylogeny is necessary to fully understand how genetic diversity within this gene family is distributed among taxa and habitats.

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