BACKGROUNDWidespread sampling of vertebrates, which comprise the majority of published animal mitochondrial genomes, has led to the view that mitochondrial gene rearrangements are relatively rare, and that gene orders are typically stable across major taxonomic groups. In contrast, more limited sampling within the Phylum Mollusca has revealed an unusually high number of gene order arrangements. Here we provide evidence that the lability of the molluscan mitochondrial genome extends to the family level by describing extensive gene order changes that have occurred within the Vermetidae, a family of sessile marine gastropods that radiated from a basal caenogastropod stock during the Cenozoic Era.RESULTSMajor mitochondrial gene rearrangements have occurred within this family at a scale unexpected for such an evolutionarily young group and unprecedented for any caenogastropod examined to date. We determined the complete mitochondrial genomes of four species (Dendropoma maximum, D. gregarium, Eualetes tulipa, and Thylacodes squamigerus) and the partial mitochondrial genomes of two others (Vermetus erectus and Thylaeodus sp.). Each of the six vermetid gastropods assayed possessed a unique gene order. In addition to the typical mitochondrial genome complement of 37 genes, additional tRNA genes were evident in D. gregarium (trnK) and Thylacodes squamigerus (trnV, trnLUUR). Three pseudogenes and additional tRNAs found within the genome of Thylacodes squamigerus provide evidence of a past duplication event in this taxon. Likewise, high sequence similarities between isoaccepting leucine tRNAs in Thylacodes, Eualetes, and Thylaeodus suggest that tRNA remolding has been rife within this family. While vermetids exhibit gene arrangements diagnostic of this family, they also share arrangements with littorinimorph caenogastropods, with which they have been linked based on sperm morphology and primary sequence-based phylogenies.CONCLUSIONSWe have uncovered major changes in gene order within a family of caenogastropod molluscs that are indicative of a highly dynamic mitochondrial genome. Studies of mitochondrial genomes at such low taxonomic levels should help to illuminate the dynamics of gene order change, since the telltale vestiges of gene duplication, translocation, and remolding have not yet been erased entirely. Likewise, gene order characters may improve phylogenetic hypotheses at finer taxonomic levels than once anticipated and aid in investigating the conditions under which sequence-based phylogenies lack resolution or prove misleading.