A cryptic intracellular green alga in Ginkgo biloba: ribosomal DNA markers reveal worldwide distribution

Jocelyne Trémouillaux-Guiller, Volker A R Huss
Planta 2007, 226 (2): 553-7
Intracellular symbioses involving eukaryotic microalgae and a variety of heterotrophic protists and invertebrates are widespread, but are unknown in higher plants. Recently, we reported the isolation and molecular identification of a Coccomyxa-like green alga from in vitro cell cultures of Ginkgo biloba L. This alga resides intracellularly in an immature "precursor" form with a nonfunctional chloroplast, implying that algal photosynthetic activity has no role in this endosymbiosis. In necrotizing Ginkgo cells, precursors evolved into mature algae, proliferated, and were liberated into the culture medium after host cell bursting. In the present paper we demonstrate by molecular methods a worldwide distribution of the alga in planta. Endosymbiont-specific sequences of ribosomal DNA could be traced in Ginkgo tissues of each specimen examined from different geographic locations in Europe, North America, and Asia. The Ginkgo/Coccomyca association represents a new kind of intracellular, vertically inherited symbiosis. Storage bodies, probably of lipid nature, present in the cytoplasm of each partner suggest a possible involvement of the endosymbiont in metabolic pathways of its host.

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