The early phylogeny of the 137 species in the Bovidae family is difficult to resolve; knowledge of the evolution and relationships of the tribes would facilitate comparative mapping, understanding chromosomal evolution patterns and perhaps assist breeding and domestication strategies. We found that the study of the presence and organization of two repetitive DNA satellite sequences (the clone pOaKB9 from sheep, a member of the 1.714 satellite I family and the pBtKB5, a 1.715 satellite I clone from cattle) on the X and autosomal chromosomes by in situ hybridization to chromosomes from 15 species of seven tribes, was informative. The results support a consistent phylogeny, suggesting that the primitive form of the X chromosome is acrocentric, and has satellite I sequences at its centromere. Because of the distribution of the ancient satellite I sequence, the X chromosome from the extant Tragelaphini (e.g. oryx), rather than Caprini (sheep), line is most primitive. The Bovini (cow) and Tragelaphini tribes lack the 1.714 satellite present in the other tribes, and this satellite is evolutionarily younger than the 1.715 sequence, with absence of the 1.714 sequence being a marker for the Bovini and Tragelaphini tribes (the Bovinae subfamily). In the other tribes, three (Reduncini, Hippotragini and Aepycerotini) have both 1.714 and 1.715 satellite sequences present on both autosomes and the X chromosome. We suggest a parallel event in two lineages, leading to X chromosomes with the loss of 1.715 satellite from the Bovini, and the loss of both 1.714 and 1.715 satellites in a monophyletic Caprini and Alcelaphini lineage. The presence and X chromosome distribution of these satellite sequences allow the seven tribes to be distributed to four groups, which are consistent with current diversity estimates, and support one model to resolve points of separation of the tribes.
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