Molecular evidence for plastid robbery (Kleptoplastidy) in Dinophysis, a dinoflagellate causing diarrhetic shellfish poisoning

Protist. 2002 Sep;153(3):293-302. doi: 10.1078/1434-4610-00106.


The dinoflagellate genus Dinophysis contains species known to cause diarrhetic shellfish poisoning. Although most photosynthetic dinoflagellates have plastids with peridinin, photosynthetic Dinophysis species have cryptophyte-like plastids containing phycobilin rather than peridinin. We sequenced nuclear- and plastid-encoded SSU rDNA from three photosynthetic species of Dinophysis for phylogenetic analyses. In the tree of nuclear SSU rDNA, Dinophysis was a monophyletic group nested with peridinin-containing dinoflagellates. However, in the tree of plastid SSU rDNA, the Dinophysis plastid lineage was within the radiation of cryptophytes and was closely related to Geminigera cryophila. These analyses indicate that an ancestor of Dinophysis, which may have originally possessed peridinin-type plastid and lost it subsequently, adopted a new plastid from a cryptophyte. Unlike dinoflagellates with fully integrated plastids, the Dinophysis plastid SSU rDNA sequences were identical among the three species examined, while there were species-specific base substitutions in their nuclear SSU rDNA sequences. Queries of the DNA database showed that the plastid SSU rDNA sequence of Dinophysis is almost identical to that of an environmental DNA clone of a <10 pm sized plankter, possibly a cryptophyte and a likely source of the Dinophysis plastid. The present findings suggest that these Dinophysis species engulfed and temporarily retained plastids from a cryptophyte.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Base Sequence
  • DNA, Ribosomal / genetics
  • Diarrhea / microbiology
  • Dinoflagellida / classification
  • Dinoflagellida / genetics
  • Dinoflagellida / pathogenicity
  • Dinoflagellida / ultrastructure*
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Phylogeny
  • Plastids / genetics*
  • Plastids / metabolism
  • Plastids / ultrastructure
  • Sequence Alignment
  • Shellfish Poisoning


  • DNA, Ribosomal