Document Type


Publication Date



Background: Follicle mites of the genus Demodex are found on a wide diversity of mammals, including humans. surprisingly little is known, however, about the evolution of this association. Additional sequence information promises to facilitate studies of Demodex variation within and between host species. Here we report the complete mitochondrial genome sequences of two species of Demodex known to live on humans-Demodex brevis and D. folliculorum-which are the first such genomes available for any member of the genus. We analyzed these sequences to gain insight into the evolution of mitochondrial genomes within the Acariformes. We also used relaxed molecular clock analyses, based on alignments of mitochondrial proteins, to estimate the time of divergence between these two species. Results: Both Demodex genomes shared a novel gene order that differs substantially from the ancestral chelicerate pattern, with transfer RNA (tRNA) genes apparently having moved much more often than other genes. Mitochondrial tRNA genes of both species were unusually short, with most of them unable to encode tRNAs that could fold into the canonical cloverleaf structure. indeed, several examples lacked both D- and T-arms. Finally, the high level of sequence divergence observed between these species suggests that these two lineages last shared a common ancestor no more recently than about 87 mya. Conclusions: Among Acariformes, rearrangements involving tRNA genes tend to occur much more often than those involving other genes. The truncated tRNA genes observed in both Demodex species would seem to require the evolution of extensive tRNA editing capabilities and/or coevolved interacting factors. The molecular machinery necessary for these unusual tRNAs to function might provide an avenue for developing treatments of skin disorders caused by Demodex. The deep divergence time estimated between these two species sets a lower bound on the time that Demodex have been coevolving with their mammalian hosts, and supports the hypothesis that there was an early split within the genus Demodex into species that dwell in different skin microhabitats.