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Mol Phylogenet Evol. 2009 Jan;50(1):129-40. doi: 10.1016/j.ympev.2008.09.027. Epub 2008 Oct 17.

Labyrinthulomycetes phylogeny and its implications for the evolutionary loss of chloroplasts and gain of ectoplasmic gliding.

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Department of Botany, #3529-6270 University Blvd., The University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada V6T 1Z4.


The labyrinthulomycetes, also known as the 'Labyrinthulomycota' are saprotrophic or less frequently parasitic stramenopilan protists, usually in marine ecosystems. Their distinguishing feature is an 'ectoplasmic net,' an external cytoplasmic network secreted by a specialized organelle that attaches the cell to its substrate and secretes digestive enzymes for absorptive nutrition. In this study, one of our aims was to infer the phylogenetic position of the labyrinthulomycetes relative to the non-photosynthetic bicoeceans and oomycetes and the photosynthetic ochrophytes and thereby evaluate patterns of change from photosynthesis to saprotrophism among the stramenopiles. For the labyrinthulomycetes, we determined sequences of the actin, beta-tubulin, and elongation factor 1-alpha gene fragments and where necessary, ribosomal small subunit (SSU) genes. Multilocus analysis using standard tree construction techniques not only strongly supported the oomycetes as the sister group to the phototrophic stramenopiles, but also, for the first time with moderate statistical support, showed that the labyrinthulomycetes and the bicoecean as sister groups. The paraphyly of the non-photosynthetic groups was consistent with independent loss of photosynthesis in labyrinthulomycetes and oomycetes. We also wished to develop a phylogenetically based hypothesis for the origin of the gliding cell bodies and the ectoplasmic net found in some labyrinthulomycetes. The cells of species in Labyrinthula and Aplanochytrium share a specialized form of motility involving gliding on ectoplasmic tracks. Before our study, only ribosomal DNA genes had been determined for these genera and their phylogenetic position in the labyrinthulomycetes was equivocal. Multilocus phylogenies applying our newly determined protein-coding sequences divided the labyrinthulomycetes between sister clades 'A' and 'B' and showed that the monophyletic group containing all of the gliding species was nested among non-gliding species in clade B. This phylogeny suggested that species that glide via an ectoplasm evolved from species that had used the ectoplasm mainly for anchorage and assimilation rather than motility.

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