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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1992 Oct 15;89(20):9764-8.

A broad molecular phylogeny of ciliates: identification of major evolutionary trends and radiations within the phylum.

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Laboratoire de Biologie Cellulaire 4, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Université Paris-Sud, Orsay, France.


The cellular architecture of ciliates is one of the most complex known within eukaryotes. Detailed systematic schemes have thus been constructed through extensive comparative morphological and ultrastructural analysis of the ciliature and of its internal cytoskeletal derivatives (the infraciliature), as well as of the architecture of the oral apparatus. In recent years, a consensus was reached in which the phylum was divided in eight classes as defined by Lynn and Corliss [Lynn, D. H. & Corliss, J. O. (1991) in Microscopic Anatomy of Invertebrates: Protozoa (Wiley-Liss, New York), Vol. 1, pp. 333-467]. By comparing partial sequences of the large subunit rRNA molecule, and by using both distance-matrix and maximum-parsimony-tree construction methods (checked by boot-strapping), we examine the phylogenetic relationships of 22 species belonging to seven of these eight classes. At low taxonomic levels, the traditional grouping of the species is generally confirmed. At higher taxonomic levels, the branching pattern of these seven classes is resolved in several deeply separated major branches. Surprisingly, the first emerging one contains the heterotrichs and is strongly associated with a karyorelictid but deeply separated from hypotrichs. The litostomes, the oligohymenophorans, and the hypotrichs separate later in a bush-like topology hindering the resolution of their order of diversification. These results show a much more ancient origin of heterotrichs than was classically assumed, indicating that asymmetric, abundantly ciliated oral apparatuses do not correspond to "highly evolved" traits as previously thought. They also suggest the occurrence of a major radiative explosion in the evolutionary history of the ciliates, yielding five of the eight classes of the phylum. These classes appear to differ essentially according to the cytoskeletal architecture used to shape and sustain the cellular cortex (a process of essential adaptative and morphogenetic importance in ciliates).

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