Chloroplast gene arrangement variation within a closely related group of green algae (Trebouxiophyceae, Chlorophyta)

Molly R Letsch, Louise A Lewis
Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 2012, 64 (3): 524-32
The 22 published chloroplast genomes of green algae, representing sparse taxonomic sampling of diverse lineages that span over one billion years of evolution, each possess a unique gene arrangement. In contrast, many of the >190 published embryophyte (land plant) chloroplast genomes have relatively conserved architectures. To determine the phylogenetic depth at which chloroplast gene rearrangements occur in green algae, a 1.5-4 kb segment of the chloroplast genome was compared across nine species in three closely related genera of Trebouxiophyceae (Chlorophyta). In total, four distinct gene arrangements were obtained for the three genera Elliptochloris, Hemichloris, and Coccomyxa. In Elliptochloris, three distinct chloroplast gene arrangements were detected, one of which is shared with members of its sister genus Hemichloris. Both species of Coccomyxa examined share the fourth arrangement of this genome region, one characterized by very long spacers. Next, the order of genes found in this segment of the chloroplast genome was compared across green algae and land plants. As taxonomic ranks are not equivalent among different groups of organisms, the maximum molecular divergence among taxa sharing a common gene arrangement in this genome segment was compared. Well-supported clades possessing a single gene order had similar phylogenetic depth in green algae and embryophytes. When the dominant gene order of this chloroplast segment in embryophytes was assumed to be ancestral for land plants, the maximum molecular divergence was found to be over two times greater in embryophytes than in trebouxiophyte green algae. This study greatly expands information about chloroplast genome variation in green algae, is the first to demonstrate such variation among congeneric green algae, and further illustrates the fluidity of green algal chloroplast genome architecture in comparison to that of many embryophytes.

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