Background: Genome reduction in intracellular pathogens and endosymbionts is usually compensated by reliance on the host for energy and nutrients. Free-living taxa with reduced genomes must however evolve strategies for generating functional diversity to support their independent lifestyles. An emerging model for the latter case is the Rhodophyta (red algae) that comprises an ecologically widely distributed, species-rich phylum. Red algae have undergone multiple phases of significant genome reduction, including extremophilic unicellular taxa with limited nuclear gene inventories that must cope with hot, highly acidic environments.
Results: Using genomic data from eight red algal lineages, we identified 155 spliceosomal machinery (SM)-associated genes that were putatively present in the red algal common ancestor. This core SM gene set is most highly conserved in Galdieria species (150 SM genes) and underwent differing levels of gene loss in other examined red algae (53-145 SM genes). Surprisingly, the high SM conservation in Galdieria sulphuraria coincides with the enrichment of spliceosomal introns in this species (2 introns/gene) in comparison to other red algae (< 0.34 introns/gene). Spliceosomal introns in G. sulphuraria undergo alternatively splicing, including many that are differentially spliced upon changes in culture temperature.
Conclusions: Our work reveals the unique nature of G. sulphuraria among red algae with respect to the conservation of the spliceosomal machinery and introns. We discuss the possible implications of these findings in the highly streamlined genome of this free-living eukaryote.
Keywords: Genome reduction; Intron; RNA splicing; Rhodophyta.