The phylum Nematoda encompasses numerous free-living as well as parasitic members, including the widely used animal model Caenorhabditis elegans
, with significant impact on human health, agriculture, and environment. In view of the importance of nematodes, it is of much interest to identify novel molecular characteristics that are distinctive features of this phylum, or specific taxonomic groups/clades within it, thereby providing innovative means for diagnostics as well as genetic and biochemical studies. Using genome sequences for 52 available nematodes, a robust phylogenetic tree was constructed based on concatenated sequences of 17 conserved proteins. The branching of species in this tree provides important insights into the evolutionary relationships among the studied nematode species. In parallel, detailed comparative analyses on protein sequences from nematodes (Caenorhabditis
) species reported here have identified 52 novel molecular signatures (or synapomorphies) consisting of conserved signature indels (CSIs) in different proteins, which are uniquely shared by the homologs from either all genome-sequenced Caenorhabditis
species or a number of higher taxonomic clades of nematodes encompassing this genus. Of these molecular signatures, 39 CSIs in proteins involved in diverse functions are uniquely present in all Caenorhabditis
species providing reliable means for distinguishing this group of nematodes in molecular terms. The remainder of the CSIs are specific for a number of higher clades of nematodes and offer important insights into the evolutionary relationships among these species. The structural locations of some of the nematodes-specific CSIs were also mapped in the structural models of the corresponding proteins. All of the studied CSIs are localized within the surface-exposed loops of the proteins suggesting that they may potentially be involved in mediating novel protein–protein or protein–ligand interactions, which are specific for these groups of nematodes. The identified CSIs, due to their exclusivity for the indicated groups, provide reliable means for the identification of species within these nematodes groups in molecular terms. Further, due to the predicted roles of these CSIs in cellular functions, they provide important tools for genetic and biochemical studies in Caenorhabditis
and other nematodes.
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