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BMC Evol Biol. 2001;1:5. Epub 2001 Oct 9.

Parallel evolution of histophagy in ciliates of the genus Tetrahymena.

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  • 1Department of Zoology, College of Biological Science, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario N1G 2W1, Canada. mstruede@uoguelph.ca



Species of Tetrahymena were grouped into three complexes based on morphological and life history traits: the pyriformis complex of microstomatous forms; the patula complex of microstome-macrostome transformers; and the rostrata complex of facultative and obligate histophages. We tested whether these three complexes are paraphyletic using the complete sequence of the small subunit rDNA (SSrDNA).


In addition to the 16 species of Tetrahymena whose SSrDNA sequences are known, we sequenced the complete SSrDNA from the following histophagous Tetrahymena species; Tetrahymena bergeri, Tetrahymena mobilis, Tetrahymena rostrata, and Tetrahymena setosa as well as the macrostome species Tetrahymena vorax. We also included a ciliate tentatively identified as Lambornella sp., a parasite of the mosquito Aedes sp. We confirmed earlier results using SSrDNA, which showed two distinct clusters of Tetrahymena species: the australis group and borealis group. The genetic distances among Tetrahymena are in general very small. However, all nodes were supported by high bootstrap values. With the exception of T. bergeri and T. corlissi, which are both histophagous and group as sister species, all other histophagous Tetrahymena species are most closely related to a bacterivorous species. Furthermore, Lambornella sp. and T. empidokyrea, both mosquito parasites, are sister species, although there is a considerable genetic distance between them.


There has been parallel evolution of histophagy in the genus Tetrahymena and the three classical species complexes are paraphyletic. As the genus Lambornella arises within the Tetrahymena clade, it is not likely a defensible one.

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