The recently published genome of the unicellular red alga Porphyridium purpureum revealed a gene-rich, intron-poor species, which is surprising for a free-living mesophile. Of the 8,355 predicted protein-coding regions, up to 773 (9.3%) were implicated in horizontal genetic transfer (HGT) events involving other prokaryote and eukaryote lineages. A much smaller number, up to 174 (2.1%) showed unambiguous evidence of vertical inheritance. Together with other red algal genomes, nearly all published in 2013, these data provide an excellent platform for studying diverse aspects of algal biology and evolution. This novel information will help investigators test existing hypotheses about the impact of endosymbiosis and HGT on algal evolution and enable comparative analysis within a more-refined, hypothesis-driven framework that extends beyond HGT. Here we explore the impacts of this infusion of red algal genome data on addressing questions regarding the complex nature of algal evolution and highlight the need for scalable phylogenomic approaches to handle the forthcoming deluge of sequence information.
Keywords: algal evolution; endosymbiosis; horizontal genetic transfer; phylogenomics; red algae.