Evolution of red algal plastid genomes: ancient architectures, introns, horizontal gene transfer, and taxonomic utility of plastid markers

PLoS One. 2013;8(3):e59001. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0059001. Epub 2013 Mar 25.


Red algae have the most gene-rich plastid genomes known, but despite their evolutionary importance these genomes remain poorly sampled. Here we characterize three complete and one partial plastid genome from a diverse range of florideophytes. By unifying annotations across all available red algal plastid genomes we show they all share a highly compact and slowly-evolving architecture and uniquely rich gene complements. Both chromosome structure and gene content have changed very little during red algal diversification, and suggest that plastid-to nucleus gene transfers have been rare. Despite their ancient character, however, the red algal plastids also contain several unprecedented features, including a group II intron in a tRNA-Met gene that encodes the first example of red algal plastid intron maturase - a feature uniquely shared among florideophytes. We also identify a rare case of a horizontally-acquired proteobacterial operon, and propose this operon may have been recruited for plastid function and potentially replaced a nucleus-encoded plastid-targeted paralogue. Plastid genome phylogenies yield a fully resolved tree and suggest that plastid DNA is a useful tool for resolving red algal relationships. Lastly, we estimate the evolutionary rates among more than 200 plastid genes, and assess their usefulness for species and subspecies taxonomy by comparison to well-established barcoding markers such as cox1 and rbcL. Overall, these data demonstrates that red algal plastid genomes are easily obtainable using high-throughput sequencing of total genomic DNA, interesting from evolutionary perspectives, and promising in resolving red algal relationships at evolutionarily-deep and species/subspecies levels.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • DNA Barcoding, Taxonomic
  • Endoribonucleases / metabolism
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Gene Order
  • Gene Transfer, Horizontal
  • Genes, Plant
  • Genetic Markers
  • Genome, Plastid*
  • Introns
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Nucleic Acid Conformation
  • Nucleotidyltransferases / metabolism
  • Operon / genetics
  • Phylogeny
  • RNA, Transfer / chemistry
  • RNA, Transfer / genetics
  • Rhodophyta / classification*
  • Rhodophyta / genetics*
  • Sequence Alignment
  • Species Specificity


  • Genetic Markers
  • RNA, Transfer
  • Nucleotidyltransferases
  • mRNA maturase
  • Endoribonucleases

Associated data

  • GENBANK/HF562234
  • GENBANK/KC153978