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Protist. 2004 Sep;155(3):347-59.

Highly divergent SSU rRNA genes found in the marine ciliates Myrionecta rubra and Mesodinium pulex.

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Horn Point Laboratory, University of Maryland, Center for Environmental Science, PO Box 775, Cambridge, MD 21613, USA.


Myrionecta rubra and Mesodinium pulex are among the most commonly encountered planktonic ciliates in coastal marine and estuarine regions throughout the world. Despite their widespread distribution, both ciliates have received little attention by taxonomists. In order to better understand the phylogenetic position of these ciliates, we determined the SSU rRNA gene sequence from cultures of M. rubra and M. pulex. Partial sequence data were also generated from isolated cells of M. rubra from Chesapeake Bay. The M. rubra and M. pulex sequences were very divergent from all other ciliates, but shared a branch with 100% bootstrap support. Both species had numerous deletions and substitutions in their SSU rRNA gene, resulting in a long branch for the clade. This made the sequences prone to spurious phylogenetic affiliations when using simple phylogenetic methods. Maximum likelihood analysis placed M. rubra and M. pulex on the basal ciliate branch, following removal of ambiguously aligned regions. Fluorescent in situ hybridization probes were used with confocal laser scanning microscopy to confirm that these divergent sequences were both expressed in the cytoplasm and nucleolus of M. ruisra and M. pulex. We found that our sequence data matched several recently discovered unidentified eukaryotes in Genbank from diverse marine habitats, all of which had apparently been misattributed to highly divergent amoeboid organisms.

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