Journal of Molecular Evolution

, Volume 41, Issue 2, pp 203–210

Analyses of ribosomal RNA sequences from glaucocystophyte cyanelles provide new insights into the evolutionary relationships of plastids


  • Thomas A. Helmchen
    • Botanisches InstitutLehrstuhl I, Universitat zu Köln
  • Debashish Bhattacharya
    • Botanisches InstitutLehrstuhl I, Universitat zu Köln
  • Michael Melkonian
    • Botanisches InstitutLehrstuhl I, Universitat zu Köln

DOI: 10.1007/BF00170674

Cite this article as:
Helmchen, T.A., Bhattacharya, D. & Melkonian, M. J Mol Evol (1995) 41: 203. doi:10.1007/BF00170674


Glaucocystophyte algae (sensu Kies, Berl. Deutsch. Bot. Ges. 92, 1979) contain plastids (cyanelles) that retain the peptidoglycan wall of the putative cyanobacterial endosymbiont; this and other ultrastructural characters (e.g., unstacked thylakoids, phycobilisomes) have suggested that cyanelles are “primitive” plastids that may represent undeveloped associations between heterotrophic “host” cells (i.e., glaucocystophytes) and cyanobacteria. To test the monophyly of glaucocystophyte cyanelles and to determine their evolutionary relationship to other plastids, complete 16S ribosomal RNA sequences were determined for Cyanophora paradoxa, Glaucocystis nostochinearum, Glaucosphaera vacuolata, and Gloeochaete wittrockiana. Plastid rRNAs were analyzed with the maximum-likelihood, maximumparsimony, and neighbor joining methods. The phylogenetic analyses show that the cyanelles of C. paradoxa, G. nostochinearum, and G. wittrockiana form a distinct evolutionary lineage; these cyanelles presumably share a monophyletic origin. The rDNA sequence of G. vacuolata was positioned within the nongreen plastid lineage. This result is consistent with analyses of nuclear-encoded rRNAs that identify G. vacuolata as a rhodophyte and support its removal from the Glaucocystophyta. Results of a global search with the maximumlikelihood method suggest that cyanelles are the first divergence among all plastids; this result is consistent with a single loss of the peptidoglycan wall in plastids after the divergence of the cyanelles. User-defined tree analyses with the maximum-likelihood method indicate, however, that the position of the cyanelles is not stable within the rRNA phylogenies. Both maximumparsimony and neighbor-joining analyses showed a close evolutionary relationship between cyanelles and nongreen plastids; these phylogenetic methods were sensitive to inclusion/exclusion of the G. wittrockiana cyanelle sequence. Base compositional bias within the G. wittrockiana 16S rRNA may explain this result. Taken together the phylogenetic analyses are interpreted as supporting a near-simultaneous radiation of cyanelles and green and nongreen plastids; these organelles are all rooted within the cyanobacteria.

Key words

CyanellesCyanophora paradoxaEndosymbiosisEvolutionGlaucocystophytaGlaucophytaPhylogenyPlastid16S ribosomal RNA

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag New York Inc 1995