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Bioessays. 2012 Mar;34(3):226-35. doi: 10.1002/bies.201100139. Epub 2012 Jan 13.

Red algal parasites: models for a life history evolution that leaves photosynthesis behind again and again.

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Department of Biological Sciences, University of Rhode Island, Kingston, RI, USA.


Many of the most virulent and problematic eukaryotic pathogens have evolved from photosynthetic ancestors, such as apicomplexans, which are responsible for a wide range of diseases including malaria and toxoplasmosis. The primary barrier to understanding the early stages of evolution of these parasites has been the difficulty in finding parasites with closely related free-living lineages with which to make comparisons. Parasites found throughout the florideophyte red algal lineage, however, provide a unique and powerful model to investigate the genetic origins of a parasitic lifestyle. This is because they share a recent common ancestor with an extant free-living red algal species and parasitism has independently arisen over 100 times within this group. Here, we synthesize the relevant hypotheses with respect to how these parasites have proliferated. We also place red algal research in the context of recent developments in understanding the genome evolution of other eukaryotic photosynthesizers turned parasites.

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