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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2010 Sep 14;107(37):16190-5. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1002335107. Epub 2010 Aug 24.

Nephromyces, a beneficial apicomplexan symbiont in marine animals.

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  • 1Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138-2902, USA. mbsaffo@post.harvard.edu


With malaria parasites (Plasmodium spp.), Toxoplasma, and many other species of medical and veterinary importance its iconic representatives, the protistan phylum Apicomplexa has long been defined as a group composed entirely of parasites and pathogens. We present here a report of a beneficial apicomplexan: the mutualistic marine endosymbiont Nephromyces. For more than a century, the peculiar structural and developmental features of Nephromyces, and its unusual habitat, have thwarted characterization of the phylogenetic affinities of this eukaryotic microbe. Using short-subunit ribosomal DNA (SSU rDNA) sequences as key evidence, with sequence identity confirmed by fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH), we show that Nephromyces, originally classified as a chytrid fungus, is actually an apicomplexan. Inferences from rDNA data are further supported by the several apicomplexan-like structural features in Nephromyces, including especially the strong resemblance of Nephromyces infective stages to apicomplexan sporozoites. The striking emergence of the mutualistic Nephromyces from a quintessentially parasitic clade accentuates the promise of this organism, and the three-partner symbiosis of which it is a part, as a model for probing the factors underlying the evolution of mutualism, pathogenicity, and infectious disease.

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