, Volume 18, Issue 3-5, pp 475-481
Date: 20 Sep 2006

A Genomic and Phylogenetic Perspective on Endosymbiosis and Algal Origin

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Abstract

Accounting for the diversity of photosynthetic eukaryotes is an important challenge in microbial biology. It has now become clear that endosymbiosis explains the origin of the photosynthetic organelle (plastid) in different algal groups. The first plastid originated from a primary endosymbiosis, whereby a previously non-photosynthetic protist engulfed and enslaved a cyanobacterium. This alga then gave rise to the red, green, and glaucophyte lineages. Algae such as the chlorophyll c-containing chromists gained their plastid through secondary endosymbiosis, in which an existing eukaryotic alga (in this case, a rhodophyte) was engulfed. Another chlorophyll c-containing algal group, the dinoflagellates, is a member of the alveolates that is postulated to be sister to chromists. The plastid in these algae has followed a radically different path of evolution. The peridinin-containing dinoflagellates underwent an unprecedented level of plastid genome reduction with the ca. 16 remaining genes encoded on 1–3 gene minicircles. In this short review, we examine algal plastid diversity using phylogenetic and genomic methods and show endosymbiosis to be a major force in algal evolution. In particular, we focus on the evolution of targeting signals that facilitate the import of nuclear-encoded photosynthetic proteins into the plastid.