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Mol Phylogenet Evol. 1996 Apr;5(2):359-67.

Phylogenetic analysis of beta-tubulin sequences from amitochondrial protozoa.

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  • 1Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Medical College of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia 19129, USA.


It has been proposed that certain extant anaerobic protozoa are descended from organisms that diverged early in eukaryotic evolution prior to the acquisition of mitochondria. Among these are the extracellular parasites Giardia lamblia, Trichomonas vaginalis, and Entamoeba histolytica, and the obligately intracellular microsporidia. Phylogenetic analysis of rRNA sequences from these amitochondrial organisms suggests that G. lamblia, T. vaginalis, and microsporidia are near the base of the eukaryotic tree, while E. histolytica clusters with mitochondria-containing species. However, since eukaryotes likely evolved by symbiotic associations, it is important to analyze other sequences which may have independent origins. Unlike ribosomes, microtubules appear to be unique to eukaryotes. Complete gene sequences for the beta-tubulin subunit of microtubules from T. vaginalis, E. histolytica, and the microsporidian Encephalitozoon hellem have recently been determined. Phylogenetic relationships among these, G. lamblia, and 20 additional beta-tubulins were analyzed by distance matrix and parsimony methods, using alpha- and gamma-tubulin outgroups. All analyses placed the E. histolytica sequence at the base of the beta-tubulin evolutionary tree. Similar results were obtained for E. histolytica alpha-tubulin using a less representative set of sequences. In contrast, the E. hellem sequence branched considerably higher, within the lineage containing animal and fungal beta-tubulins. Possible explanations are considered for these unexpected differences between the beta-tubulin and rRNA trees.

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