Premise of the Study. The internal transcribed spacer (ITS) region is situated between 18S and 26S in a polycistronic rRNA precursor transcript. It had been proved to be the most commonly sequenced region across plant species to resolve phylogenetic relationships ranging from shallow to deep taxonomic levels. Despite several taxonomical revisions in Cassiinae, a stable phylogeny remains elusive at the molecular level, particularly concerning the delineation of species in the genera Cassia, Senna and Chamaecrista. This study addresses the comparative potential of ITS datasets (ITS1, ITS2 and concatenated) in resolving the underlying morphological disparity in the highly complex genera, to assess their discriminatory power as potential barcode candidates in Cassiinae.
Methodology. A combination of experimental data and an in-silico approach based on threshold genetic distances, sequence similarity based and hierarchical tree-based methods was performed to decipher the discriminating power of ITS datasets on 18 different species of Cassiinae complex. Lab-generated sequences were compared against those available in the GenBank using BLAST and were aligned through MUSCLE 3.8.31 and analysed in PAUP 4.0 and BEAST1.8 using parsimony ratchet, maximum likelihood and Bayesian inference (BI) methods of gene and species tree reconciliation with bootstrapping. DNA barcoding gap was realized based on the Kimura two-parameter distance model (K2P) in TaxonDNA and MEGA.
Principal Findings. Based on the K2P distance, significant divergences between the inter- and intraspecific genetic distances were observed, while the presence of a DNA barcoding gap was obvious. The ITS1 region efficiently identified 81.63% and 90% of species using TaxonDNA and BI methods, respectively. The PWG-distance method based on simple pairwise matching indicated the significance of ITS1 whereby highest number of variable (210) and informative sites (206) were obtained. The BI tree based methods outperformed the similarity-based methods producing well-resolved phylogenetic trees with many nodes well supported by bootstrap analyses. Conclusion. The reticulated phylogenetic hypothesis using the ITS1 region mainly supported the relationship between the species of Cassiinae established by traditional morphological methods. The ITS1 region showed a higher discrimination power and desirable characteristics as compared to ITS2 and ITS1+2, thereby concluding to be the locus of choice. Considering the complexity of the group and the underlying biological ambiguities, the results presented here are encouraging for developing DNA barcoding as a useful tool for resolving taxonomical challenges in corroboration with morphological framework.