The alveolates comprise three well-studied protist lineages of significant environmental, medical, and economical importance: apicomplexans (e.g., Plasmodium), dinoflagellates (e.g., Symbiodinium), and ciliates (e.g., Tetrahymena). These major lineages have evolved distinct and unusual characteristics, the origins of which have proved to be difficult evolutionary puzzles. Mitochondrial genomes are a prime example: all three groups depart from canonical form and content, but in different ways. Reconstructing such ancient transitions is difficult without deep-branching lineages that retain ancestral characteristics. Here we describe two such lineages and how they illuminate the ancestral state of alveolate mitochondrial genomes. We established five clonal cultures of colponemids, predatory alveolates without cultured representatives and molecular data. Colponemids represent at least two independent lineages at the phylum level in multilocus phylogenetic analysis; one sister to apicomplexans and dinoflagellates, and the other at a deeper position. A genome survey from one strain showed that ancestral state of the mitochondrial genomes in the three major alveolate lineages consisted of an unusual linear chromosome with telomeres and a substantially larger gene set than known alveolates. Colponemid sequences also identified several environmental lineages as colponemids, altogether suggesting an untapped potential for understanding the origin and evolution of apicomplexans, dinoflagellates, and ciliates.
Copyright © 2013 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.