What Happened before Losses of Photosynthesis in Cryptophyte Algae?

Mol Biol Evol. 2022 Feb 3;39(2):msac001. doi: 10.1093/molbev/msac001.


In many lineages of algae and land plants, photosynthesis was lost multiple times independently. Comparative analyses of photosynthetic and secondary nonphotosynthetic relatives have revealed the essential functions of plastids, beyond photosynthesis. However, evolutionary triggers and processes that drive the loss of photosynthesis remain unknown. Cryptophytes are microalgae with complex plastids derived from a red alga. They include several secondary nonphotosynthetic species with closely related photosynthetic taxa. In this study, we found that a cryptophyte, Cryptomonas borealis, is in a stage just prior to the loss of photosynthesis. Cryptomonas borealis was mixotrophic, possessed photosynthetic activity, and grew independent of light. The plastid genome of C. borealis had distinct features, including increases of group II introns with mobility, frequent genome rearrangements, incomplete loss of inverted repeats, and abundant small/medium/large-sized structural variants. These features provide insight into the evolutionary process leading to the loss of photosynthesis.

Keywords: Cryptomonas borealis; cryptophyte; genome evolution; mixotrophy; photosynthetic loss.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cryptophyta / genetics
  • Genome, Plastid*
  • Photosynthesis / genetics
  • Phylogeny
  • Plastids / genetics