Gene duplication is the primary driver of intraspecific genomic divergence in coral algal symbionts

Open Biol. 2023 Sep;13(9):230182. doi: 10.1098/rsob.230182. Epub 2023 Sep 27.


Dinoflagellates in the order Suessiales include the family Symbiodiniaceae, which have essential roles as photosymbionts in corals, and their cold-adapted sister group, Polarella glacialis. These diverse taxa exhibit extensive genomic divergence, although their genomes are relatively small (haploid size < 3 Gbp) when compared with most other free-living dinoflagellates. Different strains of Symbiodiniaceae form symbiosis with distinct hosts and exhibit different regimes of gene expression, but intraspecific whole-genome divergence is poorly understood. Focusing on three Symbiodiniaceae species (the free-living Effrenium voratum and the symbiotic Symbiodinium microadriaticum and Durusdinium trenchii) and the free-living outgroup P. glacialis, for which whole-genome data from multiple isolates are available, we assessed intraspecific genomic divergence with respect to sequence and structure. Our analysis, based on alignment and alignment-free methods, revealed a greater extent of intraspecific sequence divergence in Symbiodiniaceae than in P. glacialis. Our results underscore the role of gene duplication in generating functional innovation, with a greater prevalence of tandemly duplicated single-exon genes observed in the genomes of free-living species than in symbionts. These results demonstrate the remarkable intraspecific genomic divergence in dinoflagellates under the constraint of reduced genome sizes, shaped by genetic duplications and symbiogenesis events during the diversification of Symbiodiniaceae.

Keywords: Symbiodiniaceae; coral symbionts; dinoflagellates; gene duplication; genome evolution; microalgae.