Journal of Molecular Evolution

, Volume 45, Issue 2, pp 119-124

First online:

Use of a deviant mitochondrial genetic code in yellow-green algae as a landmark for segregating members within the phylum

  • Megumi EharaAffiliated withBiohistory Research HallDepartment of Biology, Faculty of Science, Osaka University
  • , Yasuko Hayashi-IshimaruAffiliated withBiohistory Research Hall
  • , Yuji InagakiAffiliated withBiohistory Research Hall
  • , Takeshi OhamaAffiliated withBiohistory Research Hall

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Several algae that were previously classified in the phylum Xanthophyta (yellow-green algae) were assigned in 1971 to a new phylum, Eustigmatophyta. It was anticipated that the number of algae reclassified to Eustigmatophyta would increase. However, due to the fact that the morphological characteristics that segregate eustigmatophytes from other closely related algae can be only obtained through laborious electron microscopic techniques, the number of members in this phylum have increased rather slowly. We attempted, therefore, to segregate two closely related groups of algae, eustigmatophytes and yellow-green algae, on the basis of a molecular phylogenetic tree as a means of providing an alternative method of distinguishing these phyla. We analyzed the mitochondrial cyto-chrome oxidase subunit I (COXI) gene sequences of eight algae classified as xanthophyceans and found that six manifested the expected deviant genetic code where AUA codes for methionine (AUA/Met), but not for isoleucine (AUA/Ile) as in the universal genetic code. The other two, Monodus sp. (CCMP 505) and Ophiocytium majus (CCAP 855/1), which were presumed to be yellow-green algae, and all the examined eustigmatophytes utilized AUA for Ile. In addition, the phylogenetic tree of COXI gene sequences showed that the six yellow-green algae bearing the AUA/Met deviant code composed a tight clade with a bootstrap value of 100%. The phylogenetic tree of the corresponding sequences from Monodus sp. and Ophiocytium majus and the eustigmatophytes also composed a tight cluster, but with a bootstrap value of 92%. These results strongly suggest that two previously classified members of yellow-green algae belong to the phylum Eustigmatophyta. Therefore, examination of the mitochondrial genetic code in algae appears to be a potentially very useful genetic marker for classifying these organisms, especially when it is considered with the results obtained through a molecular phylogenetic tree.

Key words

Deviant genetic code Eustigmatophyta Xanthophyta Cytochrome oxidase subunit I