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Nature. 2000 Jun 29;405(6790):1049-52.

Cryptophyte algae are robbed of their organelles by the marine ciliate Mesodinium rubrum.

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  • 1University of Maryland, Center for Environmental Science, Horn Point Laboratory, Cambridge 21613, USA.


Mesodinium rubrum (Lohmann 1908) Jankowski 1976 (= Myrionecta rubra) is a common photosynthetic marine planktonic ciliate which can form coastal red-tides. It may represent a 'species complex' and since Darwin's voyage on the Beagle, it has been of great cytological, physiological and evolutionary interest. It is considered to be functionally a phytoplankter because it was thought to have lost the capacity to feed and possesses a highly modified algal endosymbiont. Whether M. rubrum is the result of a permanent endosymbiosis or a transient association between a ciliate and an alga is controversial. We conducted 'feeding' experiments to determine how exposure to a cryptophyte alga affects M. rubrum. Here we show that although M. rubrum lacks a cytostome (oral cavity), it ingests cryptophytes and steals their organelles, and may not maintain a permanent endosymbiont. M. rubrum does not fall into recognized cellular or functional categories, but may be a chimaera partially supported by organelle robbery.

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