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1.  Broad genomic and transcriptional analysis reveals a highly derived genome in dinoflagellate mitochondria 
BMC Biology  2007;5:41.
Dinoflagellates comprise an ecologically significant and diverse eukaryotic phylum that is sister to the phylum containing apicomplexan endoparasites. The mitochondrial genome of apicomplexans is uniquely reduced in gene content and size, encoding only three proteins and two ribosomal RNAs (rRNAs) within a highly compacted 6 kb DNA. Dinoflagellate mitochondrial genomes have been comparatively poorly studied: limited available data suggest some similarities with apicomplexan mitochondrial genomes but an even more radical type of genomic organization. Here, we investigate structure, content and expression of dinoflagellate mitochondrial genomes.
From two dinoflagellates, Crypthecodinium cohnii and Karlodinium micrum, we generated over 42 kb of mitochondrial genomic data that indicate a reduced gene content paralleling that of mitochondrial genomes in apicomplexans, i.e., only three protein-encoding genes and at least eight conserved components of the highly fragmented large and small subunit rRNAs. Unlike in apicomplexans, dinoflagellate mitochondrial genes occur in multiple copies, often as gene fragments, and in numerous genomic contexts. Analysis of cDNAs suggests several novel aspects of dinoflagellate mitochondrial gene expression. Polycistronic transcripts were found, standard start codons are absent, and oligoadenylation occurs upstream of stop codons, resulting in the absence of termination codons. Transcripts of at least one gene, cox3, are apparently trans-spliced to generate full-length mRNAs. RNA substitutional editing, a process previously identified for mRNAs in dinoflagellate mitochondria, is also implicated in rRNA expression.
The dinoflagellate mitochondrial genome shares the same gene complement and fragmentation of rRNA genes with its apicomplexan counterpart. However, it also exhibits several unique characteristics. Most notable are the expansion of gene copy numbers and their arrangements within the genome, RNA editing, loss of stop codons, and use of trans-splicing.
PMCID: PMC2151934  PMID: 17897476
2.  Horizontal transfer of a eukaryotic plastid-targeted protein gene to cyanobacteria 
BMC Biology  2007;5:26.
Horizontal or lateral transfer of genetic material between distantly related prokaryotes has been shown to play a major role in the evolution of bacterial and archaeal genomes, but exchange of genes between prokaryotes and eukaryotes is not as well understood. In particular, gene flow from eukaryotes to prokaryotes is rarely documented with strong support, which is unusual since prokaryotic genomes appear to readily accept foreign genes.
Here, we show that abundant marine cyanobacteria in the related genera Synechococcus and Prochlorococcus acquired a key Calvin cycle/glycolytic enzyme from a eukaryote. Two non-homologous forms of fructose bisphosphate aldolase (FBA) are characteristic of eukaryotes and prokaryotes respectively. However, a eukaryotic gene has been inserted immediately upstream of the ancestral prokaryotic gene in several strains (ecotypes) of Synechococcus and Prochlorococcus. In one lineage this new gene has replaced the ancestral gene altogether. The eukaryotic gene is most closely related to the plastid-targeted FBA from red algae. This eukaryotic-type FBA once replaced the plastid/cyanobacterial type in photosynthetic eukaryotes, hinting at a possible functional advantage in Calvin cycle reactions. The strains that now possess this eukaryotic FBA are scattered across the tree of Synechococcus and Prochlorococcus, perhaps because the gene has been transferred multiple times among cyanobacteria, or more likely because it has been selectively retained only in certain lineages.
A gene for plastid-targeted FBA has been transferred from red algae to cyanobacteria, where it has inserted itself beside its non-homologous, functional analogue. Its current distribution in Prochlorococcus and Synechococcus is punctate, suggesting a complex history since its introduction to this group.
PMCID: PMC1919352  PMID: 17584924
3.  The complete plastid genome sequence of the parasitic green alga Helicosporidium sp. is highly reduced and structured 
BMC Biology  2006;4:12.
Loss of photosynthesis has occurred independently in several plant and algal lineages, and represents a major metabolic shift with potential consequences for the content and structure of plastid genomes. To investigate such changes, we sequenced the complete plastid genome of the parasitic, non-photosynthetic green alga, Helicosporidium.
The Helicosporidium plastid genome is among the smallest known (37.5 kb), and like other plastids from non-photosynthetic organisms it lacks all genes for proteins that function in photosynthesis. Its reduced size results from more than just loss of genes, however; it has little non-coding DNA, with only one intron and tiny intergenic spaces, and no inverted repeat (no duplicated genes at all). It encodes precisely the minimal complement of tRNAs needed to translate the universal genetic code, and has eliminated all redundant isoacceptors. The Helicosporidium plastid genome is also highly structured, with each half of the circular genome containing nearly all genes on one strand. Helicosporidium is known to be related to trebouxiophyte green algae, but the genome is structured and compacted in a manner more reminiscent of the non-photosynthetic plastids of apicomplexan parasites.
Helicosporidium contributes significantly to our understanding of the evolution of plastid DNA because it illustrates the highly ordered reduction that occurred following the loss of a major metabolic function. The convergence of plastid genome structure in Helicosporidium and the Apicomplexa raises the interesting possibility that there are common forces that shape plastid genomes, subsequent to the loss of photosynthesis in an organism.
PMCID: PMC1463013  PMID: 16630350

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