Multigene phylogeny of choanozoa and the origin of animals

PLoS One. 2008 May 7;3(5):e2098. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0002098.


Animals are evolutionarily related to fungi and to the predominantly unicellular protozoan phylum Choanozoa, together known as opisthokonts. To establish the sequence of events when animals evolved from unicellular ancestors, and understand those key evolutionary transitions, we need to establish which choanozoans are most closely related to animals and also the evolutionary position of each choanozoan group within the opisthokont phylogenetic tree. Here we focus on Ministeria vibrans, a minute bacteria-eating cell with slender radiating tentacles. Single-gene trees suggested that it is either the closest unicellular relative of animals or else sister to choanoflagellates, traditionally considered likely animal ancestors. Sequencing thousands of Ministeria protein genes now reveals about 14 with domains of key significance for animal cell biology, including several previously unknown from deeply diverging Choanozoa, e.g. domains involved in hedgehog, Notch and tyrosine kinase signaling or cell adhesion (cadherin). Phylogenetic trees using 78 proteins show that Ministeria is not sister to animals or choanoflagellates (themselves sisters to animals), but to Capsaspora, another protozoan with thread-like (filose) tentacles. The Ministeria/Capsaspora clade (new class Filasterea) is sister to animals and choanoflagellates, these three groups forming a novel clade (filozoa) whose ancestor presumably evolved filose tentacles well before they aggregated as a periciliary collar in the choanoflagellate/sponge common ancestor. Our trees show ichthyosporean choanozoans as sisters to filozoa; a fusion between ubiquitin and ribosomal small subunit S30 protein genes unifies all holozoa (filozoa plus Ichthyosporea), being absent in earlier branching eukaryotes. Thus, several successive evolutionary innovations occurred among their unicellular closest relatives prior to the origin of the multicellular body-plan of animals.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Adhesion
  • Dinoflagellida / classification
  • Dinoflagellida / genetics
  • Dinoflagellida / physiology
  • Eukaryota / classification*
  • Eukaryota / genetics*
  • Eukaryota / physiology
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Genetic Variation
  • Humans
  • Origin of Life*
  • Phylogeny*
  • Protein-Tyrosine Kinases / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction
  • Species Specificity


  • Protein-Tyrosine Kinases