Journal of Molecular Evolution

, Volume 60, Issue 6, pp 695–705 | Cite as

Reevaluation of the Evolutionary Position of Opalinids Based on 18S rDNA,and α- and β-Tubulin Gene Phylogenies

  • Akane Nishi
  • Ken-ichiro Ishida
  • Hiroshi Endoh


Opalinids are enigmatic endosymbiotic protists principally found in the large intestine of anuran amphibians. They are multinucleates and uniformly covered with numerous flagella (or cilia). Their appearance is somewhat similar to that of ciliates, leading to opalinid’s initial classification as ciliates, or later as protociliates. However, on the basis of their monomorphic nuclei, absence of a ciliate-like life cycle characterized by conjugation, and an interkinetal fission mode, opalinids were subsequently transferred in the zooflagellates. As several common ultrastructural characteristics shared with proteromonads were elucidated, in particular of the flagellar base, such as their double-stranded flagellar helix, an alliance with proteromonads was widely accepted. Thus, opalinids are currently favored to be placed in the class Opalinea, within the heterokont kingdom Chromista. However, the question of their classification has not been fully resolved, because of a lack of molecular information. Here, we report their phylogenetic position inferred from 18S rDNA, and α- and β-tubulin gene sequences. The 18S rDNA tree gives the opalinids an ancestral position in heterokonts, together with proteromonads, as suggested by the morphological studies. In great contrast, α- and β-tubulin gene analyses suggest an affiliation of opalinids to alveolates, not to heterokonts. However, the AU test implies that opalinids are not closely related with any of other three phyla in the alveolates, suggesting an occupation of an ancestral position within the alveolates. Based on the present molecular information, in particular rDNA phylogeny, and the ultrastructural character of the double helix common to heterokonts, we conclude that opalinids would have a common origin with heterokonts, although analyses based on two tubulin genes do not as yet completely deny a possible placement outside heterokonts. The ambiguity of the evolutionary position shown by the discrepancy between rDNA and tubulin genes phylogenies might reflect an early emergence of opalinids in ancestral chromalveolates, and an extreme specialization during a lengthy history of parasitism, as suggested by a long branch in the rDNA tree.


Opalinids Heterokonts Alveolates Chromalveolates 18S rDNA Tubulin genes Opalina Protoopalina Cepedea 



We wish to express our gratitude to T.G. Doak for critical readings, corrections of the manuscript, and many helpful comments. We also thank H. Shimodaira for the AU test, D. Lynn, T. Cavalier-Smith, and Y. Inagaki for helpful and critical comments on this work, and anonymous reviewers and the associate editor for many suggestions useful in improving the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Division of Life Science, Graduate School of Natural Science and TechnologyKanazawa UniversityJapan

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