Hypothesis: Gene-rich plastid genomes in red algae may be an outcome of nuclear genome reduction

Huan Qiu, Jun Mo Lee, Hwan Su Yoon, Debashish Bhattacharya

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12 Scopus citations


Red algae (Rhodophyta) putatively diverged from the eukaryote tree of life >1.2 billion years ago and are the source of plastids in the ecologically important diatoms, haptophytes, and dinoflagellates. In general, red algae contain the largest plastid gene inventory among all such organelles derived from primary, secondary, or additional rounds of endosymbiosis. In contrast, their nuclear gene inventory is reduced when compared to their putative sister lineage, the Viridiplantae, and other photosynthetic lineages. The latter is thought to have resulted from a phase of genome reduction that occurred in the stem lineage of Rhodophyta. A recent comparative analysis of a taxonomically broad collection of red algal and Viridiplantae plastid genomes demonstrates that the red algal ancestor encoded ~1.5× more plastid genes than Viridiplantae. This difference is primarily explained by more extensive endosymbiotic gene transfer (EGT) in the stem lineage of Viridiplantae, when compared to red algae. We postulate that limited EGT in Rhodophytes resulted from the countervailing force of ancient, and likely recurrent, nuclear genome reduction. In other words, the propensity for nuclear gene loss led to the retention of red algal plastid genes that would otherwise have undergone intracellular gene transfer to the nucleus. This hypothesis recognizes the primacy of nuclear genome evolution over that of plastids, which have no inherent control of their gene inventory and can change dramatically (e.g., secondarily non-photosynthetic eukaryotes, dinoflagellates) in response to selection acting on the host lineage.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)715-719
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of Phycology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Aquatic Science
  • Plant Science


  • Rhodophyta
  • Viridiplantae
  • endosymbiotic gene transfer
  • genome reduction
  • plastid


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