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PLoS One. 2010 Jan 29;5(1):e8954. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0008954.

The mitochondrial genome of the entomoparasitic green alga helicosporidium.

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Department of Botany, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.



Helicosporidia are achlorophyllous, non-photosynthetic protists that are obligate parasites of invertebrates. Highly specialized, these pathogens feature an unusual cyst stage that dehisces inside the infected organism and releases a filamentous cell displaying surface projections, which will penetrate the host gut wall and eventually reproduce in the hemolymph. Long classified as incertae sedis or as relatives of other parasites such as Apicomplexa or Microsporidia, the Helicosporidia were surprisingly identified through molecular phylogeny as belonging to the Chlorophyta, a phylum of green algae. Most phylogenetic analyses involving Helicosporidia have placed them within the subgroup Trebouxiophyceae and further suggested a close affiliation between the Helicosporidia and the genus Prototheca. Prototheca species are also achlorophyllous and pathogenic, but they infect vertebrate hosts, inducing protothecosis in humans. The complete plastid genome of an Helicosporidium species was recently described and is a model of compaction and reduction. Here we describe the complete mitochondrial genome sequence of the same strain, Helicosporidium sp. ATCC 50920 isolated from the black fly Simulium jonesi.


The circular mapping 49343 bp mitochondrial genome of Helicosporidium closely resembles that of the vertebrate parasite Prototheca wickerhamii. The two genomes share an almost identical gene complement and display a level of synteny that is higher than any other sequenced chlorophyte mitochondrial DNAs. Interestingly, the Helicosporidium mtDNA feature a trans-spliced group I intron, and a second group I intron that contains two open reading frames that appear to be degenerate maturase/endonuclease genes, both rare characteristics for this type of intron.


The architecture, genome content, and phylogeny of the Helicosporidium mitochondrial genome are all congruent with its close relationship to Prototheca within the Trebouxiophyceae. The Helicosporidium mitochondrial genome does, however, contain a number of novel features, particularly relating to its introns.

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