Molecular Phylogeny of Centrohelid Heliozoa, a Novel Lineage of Bikont Eukaryotes That Arose by Ciliary Loss
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Recent molecular and cellular evidence indicates that eukaryotes comprise three major lineages: the probably ancestrally uniciliate protozoan phylum Amoebozoa; the ancestrally posteriorly uniciliate opisthokont clade (animals, Choanozoa, and fungi); and a very diverse ancestrally biciliate clade, the bikonts—plants, chromalveolates, and excavate and rhizarian Protozoa. As Heliozoa are the only eukaryote phylum not yet placed on molecular sequence trees, we have sequenced the 18S rRNA genes of three centrohelid heliozoa, Raphidiophrys ambigua, Heterophrys marina, and Chlamydaster sterni, to investigate their phylogenetic position. Phylogenetic analysis by distance and maximum likelihood methods allowing for intersite rate variation and invariable sites confirms that centrohelid heliozoa are a robust clade that does not fall within any other phyla. In particular, they are decisively very distant from the heterokont pedinellid chromists, at one time thought to be related to heliozoa, and lack the unique heterokont signature sequence. They also appear not to be specifically related to either Amoebozoa or Radiolaria, with which they have sometimes been classified, so it is desirable to retain Heliozoa as a separate protozoan phylum. Even though centrohelids have no cilia or centrioles, the centrohelid clade branches among the bikont eukaryotes, but there is no strong bootstrap support for any particular position. Distance trees usually place centrohelids as sisters to haptophytes, whereas parsimony puts them as sisters to red algae, but there is no reason to think that either position is correct; both have very low bootstrap support. Quartet puzzling places them with fairly low support as sisters to the apusozoan zooflagellate Ancyromonas. As Ancyromonas is the only other eukaryote that shares the character combination of flat plate-like mitochondrial cristae and kinetocyst-type extrusomes with centrohelids, this position is biologically plausible, but because of weak support and conflict between trees it might not be correct. Irrespective of their precise position, our trees (together with previous evidence that Chlamydaster sterni has the derived dihydrofolate reductase/thymidylate synthetase gene fusion unique to bikonts) indicate that centrohelid heliozoa are ancestrally derived from a bikont flagellate by the loss of cilia. The centroplast that nucleates their axonemal microtubules is therefore almost certainly homologous with the centrosome of ciliated eukaryotes and should simply be called a centrosome.
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