Elmira Mohandesan

Doctor of Philosophy, (Evolutionary Genetics)
Study Completed: 2011
College of Sciences


Thesis Title
The evolution of the Mitochondrial DNA in Tuatara (Sphenodon punctatus)

Read article at Massey Research Online: MRO icon

The enigmatic tuatara from New Zealand, occupies a central place in the evolution of vertebrates. Tuatara have changed little anatomically over the last 200 million years. They grow slowly, reproduce slowly and have a very slow metabolism. This suggests that tuatara have slow rates of molecular evolution. Mrs. Mohandesan analyzed complete mitochondrial genomes of this ‘living fossil’ recovered from modern tuatara and sub-fossils up to 5,000 years old and examined the rates of molecular evolution and the population genetic structure of this reptile. She found although tuatara have remained largely physically unchanged over very long periods of evolution, they are evolving, at a DNA level, very rapidly. In addition, based on diverse phylogenetic analyses she suggested that there is only a single species of tuatara. This is in contrast to the widely accepted classification that there are two species of tuatara. These findings will be helpful in terms of future biological studies and the conservation of this endangered species.

Professor David Lambert
Associate Professor Evelyn Sattlegger
Dr Craig Millar