Heterotachy processes in rhodophyte-derived secondhand plastid genes: Implications for addressing the origin and evolution of dinoflagellate plastids

Kamran Shalchian-Tabrizi, Marianne Skånseng, Fredrik Ronquist, Dag Klaveness, Tsvetan R Bachvaroff, Charles F Delwiche, Andreas Botnen, Torstein Tengs, Kjetill S Jakobsen
Molecular Biology and Evolution 2006, 23 (8): 1504-15
Serial transfer of plastids from one eukaryotic host to another is the key process involved in evolution of secondhand plastids. Such transfers drastically change the environment of the plastids and hence the selection regimes, presumably leading to changes over time in the characteristics of plastid gene evolution and to misleading phylogenetic inferences. About half of the dinoflagellate protists species are photosynthetic and unique in harboring a diversity of plastids acquired from a wide range of eukaryotic algae. They are therefore ideal for studying evolutionary processes of plastids gained through secondary and tertiary endosymbioses. In the light of these processes, we have evaluated the origin of 2 types of dinoflagellate plastids, containing the peridinin or 19'-hexanoyloxyfucoxanthin (19'-HNOF) pigments, by inferring the phylogeny using "covarion" evolutionary models allowing the pattern of among-site rate variation to change over time. Our investigations of genes from secondary and tertiary plastids derived from the rhodophyte plastid lineage clearly reveal "heterotachy" processes characterized as stationary covarion substitution patterns and changes in proportion of variable sites across sequences. Failure to accommodate covarion-like substitution patterns can have strong effects on the plastid tree topology. Importantly, multigene analyses performed with probabilistic methods using among-site rate and covarion models of evolution conflict with proposed single origin of the peridinin- and 19'-HNOF-containing plastids, suggesting that analysis of secondhand plastids can be hampered by convergence in the evolutionary signature of the plastid DNA sequences. Another type of sequence convergence was detected at protein level involving the psaA gene. Excluding the psaA sequence from a concatenated protein alignment grouped the peridinin plastid with haptophytes, congruent with all DNA trees. Altogether, taking account of complex processes involved in the evolution of dinoflagellate plastid sequences (both at the DNA and amino acid level), we demonstrate the difficulty of excluding independent, tertiary origin for both the peridinin and 19'-HNOF plastids involving engulfment of haptophyte-like algae. In addition, the refined topologies suggest the red algal order, Porphyridales, as the endosymbiont ancestor of the secondary plastids in cryptophytes, haptophytes, and heterokonts.

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