Picoeukaryotes are a taxonomically diverse group of organism less than 2 micrometers in diameter. Photosynthetic marine picoeukaryotes in the genus Micromonas thrive in ecosystems ranging from tropical to polar and could serve as sentinel organisms for biogeochemical fluxes of modern oceans during climate change. These broadly distributed primary producers belong to an anciently diverged sister clade to land plants. Although Micromonas isolates have high 18S ribosomal RNA gene identity, we found that genomes from two isolates shared only 90% of their predicted genes. Their independent evolutionary paths were emphasized by distinct riboswitch arrangements as well as the discovery of intronic repeat elements in one isolate, and in metagenomic data, but not in other genomes. Divergence appears to have been facilitated by selection and acquisition processes that actively shape the repertoire of genes that are mutually exclusive between the two isolates differently than the core genes. Analyses of the Micromonas genomes offer valuable insights into ecological differentiation and the dynamic nature of early plant evolution.
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