Evolutionary acquisition and loss of saxitoxin biosynthesis in dinoflagellates: the second "core" gene, sxtG

Appl Environ Microbiol. 2013 Apr;79(7):2128-36. doi: 10.1128/AEM.03279-12. Epub 2013 Jan 18.


Saxitoxin and its derivatives are potent neurotoxins produced by several cyanobacteria and dinoflagellate species. SxtA is the initial enzyme in the biosynthesis of saxitoxin. The dinoflagellate full mRNA and partial genomic sequences have previously been characterized, and it appears that sxtA originated in dinoflagellates through a horizontal gene transfer from a bacterium. So far, little is known about the remaining genes involved in this pathway in dinoflagellates. Here we characterize sxtG, an amidinotransferase enzyme gene that putatively encodes the second step in saxitoxin biosynthesis. In this study, the entire sxtG transcripts from Alexandrium fundyense CCMP1719 and Alexandrium minutum CCMP113 were amplified and sequenced. The transcripts contained typical dinoflagellate spliced leader sequences and eukaryotic poly(A) tails. In addition, partial sxtG transcript fragments were amplified from four additional Alexandrium species and Gymnodinium catenatum. The phylogenetic inference of dinoflagellate sxtG, congruent with sxtA, revealed a bacterial origin. However, it is not known if sxtG was acquired independently of sxtA. Amplification and sequencing of the corresponding genomic sxtG region revealed noncanonical introns. These introns show a high interspecies and low intraspecies variance, suggesting multiple independent acquisitions and losses. Unlike sxtA, sxtG was also amplified from Alexandrium species not known to synthesize saxitoxin. However, amplification was not observed for 22 non-saxitoxin-producing dinoflagellate species other than those of the genus Alexandrium or G. catenatum. This result strengthens our hypothesis that saxitoxin synthesis has been secondarily lost in conjunction with sxtA for some descendant species.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amidinotransferases / genetics*
  • Amidinotransferases / metabolism*
  • Biosynthetic Pathways / genetics*
  • Cluster Analysis
  • Dinoflagellida / genetics*
  • Dinoflagellida / metabolism*
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Gene Deletion
  • Gene Transfer, Horizontal
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Phylogeny
  • Saxitoxin / biosynthesis*
  • Saxitoxin / genetics*
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA


  • Saxitoxin
  • Amidinotransferases

Associated data

  • GENBANK/JX995111
  • GENBANK/JX995112
  • GENBANK/JX995113
  • GENBANK/JX995114
  • GENBANK/JX995115
  • GENBANK/JX995116
  • GENBANK/JX995117
  • GENBANK/JX995118
  • GENBANK/JX995119
  • GENBANK/JX995120
  • GENBANK/JX995121
  • GENBANK/JX995122
  • GENBANK/JX995123
  • GENBANK/JX995124
  • GENBANK/JX995125
  • GENBANK/JX995126
  • GENBANK/JX995127
  • GENBANK/JX995128
  • GENBANK/JX995129
  • GENBANK/JX995130