Apicomplexa are known to contain greatly reduced organellar genomes. Their mitochondrial genome carries only three protein-coding genes, and their plastid genome is reduced to a 35-kb-long circle. The discovery of coral-endosymbiotic algae Chromera velia and Vitrella brassicaformis, which share a common ancestry with Apicomplexa, provided an opportunity to study possibly ancestral forms of organellar genomes, a unique glimpse into the evolutionary history of apicomplexan parasites. The structurally similar mitochondrial genomes of Chromera and Vitrella differ in gene content, which is reflected in the composition of their respiratory chains. Thus, Chromera lacks respiratory complexes I and III, whereas Vitrella and apicomplexan parasites are missing only complex I. Plastid genomes differ substantially between these algae, particularly in structure: The Chromera plastid genome is a linear, 120-kb molecule with large and divergent genes, whereas the plastid genome of Vitrella is a highly compact circle that is only 85 kb long but nonetheless contains more genes than that of Chromera. It appears that organellar genomes have already been reduced in free-living phototrophic ancestors of apicomplexan parasites, and such reduction is not associated with parasitism.
Keywords: Alveolata; Apicomplexa; Chromera; mitochondrion; organellar genomes; plastid.