Apicomplexan-like parasites are polyphyletic and widely but selectively dependent on cryptic plastid organelles

Elife. 2019 Aug 16;8:e49662. doi: 10.7554/eLife.49662.


The phylum Apicomplexa comprises human pathogens such as Plasmodium but is also an under-explored hotspot of evolutionary diversity central to understanding the origins of parasitism and non-photosynthetic plastids. We generated single-cell transcriptomes for all major apicomplexan groups lacking large-scale sequence data. Phylogenetic analysis reveals that apicomplexan-like parasites are polyphyletic and their similar morphologies emerged convergently at least three times. Gregarines and eugregarines are monophyletic, against most expectations, and rhytidocystids and Eleutheroschizon are sister lineages to medically important taxa. Although previously unrecognized, plastids in deep-branching apicomplexans are common, and they contain some of the most divergent and AT-rich genomes ever found. In eugregarines, however, plastids are either abnormally reduced or absent, thus increasing known plastid losses in eukaryotes from two to four. Environmental sequences of ten novel plastid lineages and structural innovations in plastid proteins confirm that plastids in apicomplexans and their relatives are widespread and share a common, photosynthetic origin.

Keywords: apicomplexans; chrompodellids; evolutionary biology; infectious disease; microbiology; non-photosynthetic plastids; origin of parasitism; plastid genomes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Apicomplexa / classification*
  • Apicomplexa / genetics
  • Apicomplexa / growth & development*
  • Apicoplasts / genetics
  • Apicoplasts / metabolism*
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Genetic Variation*
  • Phylogeny