Background: Social amoebae are lower eukaryotes that inhabit the soil. They are characterized by the construction of a starvation-induced multicellular fruiting body with a spore ball and supportive stalk. In most species, the stalk is filled with motile stalk cells, as represented by the model organism Dictyostelium discoideum, whose developmental mechanisms have been well characterized. However, in the genus Acytostelium, the stalk is acellular and all aggregated cells become spores. Phylogenetic analyses have shown that it is not an ancestral genus but has lost the ability to undergo cell differentiation.
Results: We performed genome and transcriptome analyses of Acytostelium subglobosum and compared our findings to other available dictyostelid genome data. Although A. subglobosum adopts a qualitatively different developmental program from other dictyostelids, its gene repertoire was largely conserved. Yet, families of polyketide synthase and extracellular matrix proteins have not expanded and a serine protease and ABC transporter B family gene, tagA, and a few other developmental genes are missing in the A. subglobosum lineage. Temporal gene expression patterns are astonishingly dissimilar from those of D. discoideum, and only a limited fraction of the ortholog pairs shared the same expression patterns, so that some signaling cascades for development seem to be disabled in A. subglobosum.
Conclusions: The absence of the ability to undergo cell differentiation in Acytostelium is accompanied by a small change in coding potential and extensive alterations in gene expression patterns.