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The tuatara genome reveals ancient features of amniote evolution

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posted on 2023-05-03, 13:50 authored by Neil Gemmell, Shannon ClarkeShannon Clarke
A Publisher Correction to this article was published on 18 August 2020: Nature. 2020 Sep; 585(7823):E3. doi: 10.1038/s41586-020-2661-6. The tuatara (Sphenodon punctatus)-the only living member of the reptilian order Rhynchocephalia (Sphenodontia), once widespread across Gondwana1,2-is an iconic species that is endemic to New Zealand2,3. A key link to the now-extinct stem reptiles (from which dinosaurs, modern reptiles, birds and mammals evolved), the tuatara provides key insights into the ancestral amniotes2,4. Here we analyse the genome of the tuatara, which-at approximately 5 Gb-is among the largest of the vertebrate genomes yet assembled. Our analyses of this genome, along with comparisons with other vertebrate genomes, reinforce the uniqueness of the tuatara. Phylogenetic analyses indicate that the tuatara lineage diverged from that of snakes and lizards around 250 million years ago. This lineage also shows moderate rates of molecular evolution, with instances of punctuated evolution. Our genome sequence analysis identifies expansions of proteins, non-protein-coding RNA families and repeat elements, the latter of which show an amalgam of reptilian and mammalian features. The sequencing of the tuatara genome provides a valuable resource for deep comparative analyses of tetrapods, as well as for tuatara biology and conservation. Our study also provides important insights into both the technical challenges and the cultural obligations that are associated with genome sequencing.


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Open Access. This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made.


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Gemmell, N. J., K. Rutherford, S. Prost, M. Tollis, D. Winter, J. R. Macey, D. L. Adelson, A. Suh, T. Bertozzi, J. H. Grau, C. Organ, P. P. Gardner, M. Muffato, M. Patricio, K. Billis, F. J. Martin, P. Flicek, B. Petersen, L. Kang, P. Michalak, T. R. Buckley, M. Wilson, Y. Cheng, H. Miller, R. K. Schott, M. D. Jordan, R. D. Newcomb, J. I. Arroyo, N. Valenzuela, T. A. Hore, J. Renart, V. Peona, C. R. Peart, V. M. Warmuth, L. Zeng, R. D. Kortschak, J. M. Raison, V. V. Zapata, Z. Wu, D. Santesmasses, M. Mariotti, R. Guigó, S. M. Rupp, V. G. Twort, N. Dussex, H. Taylor, H. Abe, D. M. Bond, J. M. Paterson, D. G. Mulcahy, V. L. Gonzalez, C. G. Barbieri, D. P. DeMeo, S. Pabinger, T. Van Stijn, S. Clarke, O. Ryder, S. V. Edwards, S. L. Salzberg, L. Anderson, N. Nelson, C. Stone, C. Stone, J. Smillie, H. Edmonds and B. Ngatiwai Trust (2020). The tuatara genome reveals ancient features of amniote evolution. Nature, 584(7821), 403–409. doi:10.1038/s41586-020-2561-9

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