Unexpected cryptic species among streptophyte algae most distant to land plants

Proc Biol Sci. 2021 Nov 24;288(1963):20212168. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2021.2168. Epub 2021 Nov 24.


Streptophytes are one of the major groups of the green lineage (Chloroplastida or Viridiplantae). During one billion years of evolution, streptophytes have radiated into an astounding diversity of uni- and multicellular green algae as well as land plants. Most divergent from land plants is a clade formed by Mesostigmatophyceae, Spirotaenia spp. and Chlorokybophyceae. All three lineages are species-poor and the Chlorokybophyceae consist of a single described species, Chlorokybus atmophyticus. In this study, we used phylogenomic analyses to shed light into the diversity within Chlorokybus using a sampling of isolates across its known distribution. We uncovered a consistent deep genetic structure within the Chlorokybus isolates, which prompted us to formally extend the Chlorokybophyceae by describing four new species. Gene expression differences among Chlorokybus species suggest certain constitutive variability that might influence their response to environmental factors. Failure to account for this diversity can hamper comparative genomic studies aiming to understand the evolution of stress response across streptophytes. Our data highlight that future studies on the evolution of plant form and function can tap into an unknown diversity at key deep branches of the streptophytes.

Keywords: green algae; phycology; phylogenomics; plant evolution; plant terrestrialization; streptophytes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Chlorophyta* / genetics
  • Embryophyta* / genetics
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Genome
  • Phylogeny
  • Plants / genetics

Associated data

  • Dryad/10.5061/dryad.0gb5mkm25
  • figshare/10.6084/m9.figshare.c.5705241