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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2002 Nov 26;99(24):15507-12. Epub 2002 Nov 15.

The single, ancient origin of chromist plastids.

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  • 1Department of Biological Sciences and Center for Comparative Genomics, University of Iowa, 210 Biology Building, Iowa City 52242, USA.


Algae include a diverse array of photosynthetic eukaryotes excluding land plants. Explaining the origin of algal plastids continues to be a major challenge in evolutionary biology. Current knowledge suggests that plastid primary endosymbiosis, in which a single-celled protist engulfs and "enslaves" a cyanobacterium, likely occurred once and resulted in the primordial alga. This eukaryote then gave rise through vertical evolution to the red, green, and glaucophyte algae. However, some modern algal lineages have a more complicated evolutionary history involving a secondary endosymbiotic event, in which a protist engulfed an existing eukaryotic alga (rather than a cyanobacterium), which was then reduced to a secondary plastid. Secondary endosymbiosis explains the majority of algal biodiversity, yet the number and timing of these events is unresolved. Here we analyzed a five-gene plastid data set to show that a taxonomically diverse group of chlorophyll c(2)-containing protists comprising cryptophyte, haptophyte, and stramenopiles algae (Chromista) share a common plastid that most likely arose from a single, ancient ( approximately 1,260 million years ago) secondary endosymbiosis involving a red alga. This finding is consistent with Chromista monophyly and implicates secondary endosymbiosis as an important force in generating eukaryotic biodiversity.

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