Alveolates are a major supergroup of eukaryotes encompassing more than ten thousand free-living and parasitic species, including medically, ecologically, and economically important apicomplexans, dinoflagellates, and ciliates. These three groups are among the most widespread eukaryotes on Earth, and their environmental success can be linked to unique innovations that emerged early in each group. Understanding the emergence of these well-studied and diverse groups and their innovations has relied heavily on the discovery and characterization of early-branching relatives, which allow ancestral states to be inferred with much greater confidence. Here we report the phylogenomic analyses of 313 eukaryote protein-coding genes from transcriptomes of three members of one such group, the colponemids (Colponemidia), which support their monophyly and position as the sister lineage to all other known alveolates. Colponemid-related sequences from environmental surveys and our microscopical observations show that colponemids are not common in nature, but they are diverse and widespread in freshwater habitats around the world. Studied colponemids possess two types of extrusive organelles (trichocysts or toxicysts) for active hunting of other unicellular eukaryotes and potentially play an important role in microbial food webs. Colponemids have generally plesiomorphic morphology and illustrate the ancestral state of Alveolata. We further discuss their importance in understanding the evolution of alveolates and the origin of myzocytosis and plastids.
Keywords: Alveolate evolution; Colponema; Colponemidia; Early-branching alveolates; Phylogenomics.
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