Endosymbiotic gene transfer and transcriptional regulation of transferred genes in Paulinella chromatophora

Mol Biol Evol. 2011 Jan;28(1):407-22. doi: 10.1093/molbev/msq209. Epub 2010 Aug 11.


Paulinella chromatophora is a cercozoan amoeba that contains "chromatophores," which are photosynthetic inclusions of cyanobacterial origin. The recent discovery that chromatophores evolved independently of plastids, underwent major genome reduction, and transferred at least two genes to the host nucleus has highlighted P. chromatophora as a model to infer early steps in the evolution of photosynthetic organelles. However, owing to the paucity of nuclear genome sequence data, the extent of endosymbiotic gene transfer (EGT) and host symbiont regulation are currently unknown. A combination of 454 and Illumina next generation sequencing enabled us to generate a comprehensive reference transcriptome data set for P. chromatophora on which we mapped short Illumina cDNA reads generated from cultures from the dark and light phases of a diel cycle. Combined with extensive phylogenetic analyses of the deduced protein sequences, these data revealed that 1) about 0.3-0.8% of the nuclear genes were obtained by EGT compared with 11-14% in the Plantae, 2) transferred genes show a distinct bias in that many encode small proteins involved in photosynthesis and photoacclimation, 3) host cells established control over expression of transferred genes, and 4) not only EGT, but to a minor extent also horizontal gene transfer from organisms that presumably served as food sources, helped to shape the nuclear genome of P. chromatophora. The identification of a significant number of transferred genes involved in photosynthesis and photoacclimation of thylakoid membranes as well as the observed transcriptional regulation of these genes strongly implies import of the encoded gene products into chromatophores, a feature previously thought to be restricted to canonical organelles. Thus, a possible mechanism by which P. chromatophora exerts control over the performance of its newly acquired photosynthetic organelle may involve controlling the expression of nuclear-encoded chromatophore-targeted regulatory components of the thylakoid membranes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Amino Acid Substitution
  • Amoeba / genetics*
  • Animals
  • Base Sequence
  • Biological Evolution
  • Chromatophores / physiology*
  • Cyanobacteria / genetics
  • Exons
  • Gene Expression Regulation*
  • Gene Transfer, Horizontal*
  • Genes, Bacterial
  • Introns
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Symbiosis / genetics*
  • Transcription, Genetic*