A single loss of photosynthesis in the diatom order Bacillariales (Bacillariophyta)

Am J Bot. 2019 Apr;106(4):560-572. doi: 10.1002/ajb2.1267. Epub 2019 Apr 8.


Premise of the study: Loss of photosynthesis is a common and often repeated trajectory in nearly all major groups of photosynthetic eukaryotes. One small subset of "apochloritic" diatoms in the genus Nitzschia have lost their ability to photosynthesize and require extracellular carbon for growth. Similar to other secondarily nonphotosynthetic taxa, apochloritic diatoms maintain colorless plastids with highly reduced plastid genomes. Although the narrow taxonomic breadth of apochloritic Nitzschia suggests a single loss of photosynthesis in their common ancestor, previous phylogenetic analyses suggested that photosynthesis was lost multiple times.

Methods: We analyzed genes from the nuclear, plastid, and mitochondrial genomes for a broad set of taxa to test whether photosynthesis was lost one or multiple times in Bacillariales. We also sequenced and characterized the plastid genome of a nonphotosynthetic Nitzschia species.

Key results: Phylogenetic analyses showed that genes from all three genetic compartments either supported or failed to reject monophyly of apochloritic Nitzschia species, consistent with a single loss of photosynthesis in this group. The plastid genomes of two apochloritic Nitzschia are highly similar in all respects, indicating streamlining of the plastid genome before the split of these two species.

Conclusions: A better understanding of the phylogeny and ecology of apochloritic Nitzschia, together with emerging genomic resources, will help identify the factors that have driven and maintained the loss of photosynthesis in this group of diatoms. Finally, some habitats host diverse communities of co-occurring nonphotosynthetic diatoms, reflecting resource abundance or resource partitioning in ecologically favorable habitats.

Keywords: Nitzschia; apochloritic; chloroplast; photosynthesis; phylogeny; plastid.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Diatoms / genetics*
  • Diatoms / metabolism
  • Genome, Plastid
  • Photosynthesis / genetics*
  • Phylogeny*

Associated data

  • GENBANK/MG273660
  • GENBANK/MH017300
  • GENBANK/MH017380