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Genome Biol Evol. 2011;3:140-50. doi: 10.1093/gbe/evq074. Epub 2010 Nov 15.

ERAD components in organisms with complex red plastids suggest recruitment of a preexisting protein transport pathway for the periplastid membrane.

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Department of Cell Biology, Philipps University of Marburg, Marburg, Germany.


The plastids of cryptophytes, haptophytes, and heterokontophytes (stramenopiles) (together once known as chromists) are surrounded by four membranes, reflecting the origin of these plastids through secondary endosymbiosis. They share this trait with apicomplexans, which are alveolates, the plastids of which have been suggested to stem from the same secondary symbiotic event and therefore form a phylogenetic clade, the chromalveolates. The chromists are quantitatively the most important eukaryotic contributors to primary production in marine ecosystems. The mechanisms of protein import across their four plastid membranes are still poorly understood. Components of an endoplasmic reticulum-associated degradation (ERAD) machinery in cryptophytes, partially encoded by the reduced genome of the secondary symbiont (the nucleomorph), are implicated in protein transport across the second outermost plastid membrane. Here, we show that the haptophyte Emiliania huxleyi, like cryptophytes, stramenopiles, and apicomplexans, possesses a nuclear-encoded symbiont-specific ERAD machinery (SELMA, symbiont-specific ERAD-like machinery) in addition to the host ERAD system, with targeting signals that are able to direct green fluorescent protein or yellow fluorescent protein to the predicted cellular localization in transformed cells of the stramenopile Phaeodactylum tricornutum. Phylogenies of the duplicated ERAD factors reveal that all SELMA components trace back to a red algal origin. In contrast, the host copies of cryptophytes and haptophytes associate with the green lineage to the exclusion of stramenopiles and alveolates. Although all chromalveolates with four membrane-bound plastids possess the SELMA system, this has apparently not arisen in a single endosymbiotic event. Thus, our data do not support the chromalveolate hypothesis.

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