Nephromyces, a beneficial apicomplexan symbiont in marine animals

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2010 Sep 14;107(37):16190-5. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1002335107. Epub 2010 Aug 24.


With malaria parasites (Plasmodium spp.), Toxoplasma, and many other species of medical and veterinary importance its iconic representatives, the protistan phylum Apicomplexa has long been defined as a group composed entirely of parasites and pathogens. We present here a report of a beneficial apicomplexan: the mutualistic marine endosymbiont Nephromyces. For more than a century, the peculiar structural and developmental features of Nephromyces, and its unusual habitat, have thwarted characterization of the phylogenetic affinities of this eukaryotic microbe. Using short-subunit ribosomal DNA (SSU rDNA) sequences as key evidence, with sequence identity confirmed by fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH), we show that Nephromyces, originally classified as a chytrid fungus, is actually an apicomplexan. Inferences from rDNA data are further supported by the several apicomplexan-like structural features in Nephromyces, including especially the strong resemblance of Nephromyces infective stages to apicomplexan sporozoites. The striking emergence of the mutualistic Nephromyces from a quintessentially parasitic clade accentuates the promise of this organism, and the three-partner symbiosis of which it is a part, as a model for probing the factors underlying the evolution of mutualism, pathogenicity, and infectious disease.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apicomplexa / physiology*
  • Apicomplexa / ultrastructure
  • Microscopy, Electron, Transmission
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Phylogeny
  • Symbiosis*
  • Toxoplasma / physiology
  • Urochordata / physiology*
  • Urochordata / ultrastructure

Associated data

  • GENBANK/HM469375
  • GENBANK/HM469376
  • GENBANK/HM469377
  • GENBANK/HM469378
  • GENBANK/HM469379
  • GENBANK/HM469380
  • GENBANK/HM469381
  • GENBANK/HM469382
  • GENBANK/HM469383
  • GENBANK/HM469384