Several eukaryotic lineages gained the ability of photosynthesis by acquiring plastids in the events of primary endosymbiosis with cyanobacteria, or secondary endosymbiosis with plastid-bearing eukaryotes. Plastids possess genomes (ptDNA) with genetic contents considerably reduced as a result of gene losses and transfers to the host’s nucleus. Still, ptDNA encodes components of various metabolic processes, including photosynthesis. Plastid genomes usually retain quadripartite structure with two rDNA-bearing inverted repeats, but the reason for its conservation, and the consequences of its decline, have not been fully understood.

As the model group to study plastid genome evolution, we chose euglenids (Euglenophyta), whose ancestor acquired the secondary plastid by endosymbiosis with a green alga. The organization of ptDNA in this lineage is rather diverse: we have shown that loss of one repeat occurred at least three times, while some species in the genus possess tandemly repeated rDNA copies. The ptDNA of euglenids is also intron-rich, but we did not confirm the previously proposed strong correlation between the prevalence of introns and quantity of maturases.

Although euglenophytes are predominantly photosynthetic, a few of them lost their photosynthetic capabilities independently. Thus far, only has been shown to possess vestigial plastids with reduced genome; we observed that another strain lost its plastid genome completely. Currently, we are investigating the loss and retention of metabolic functions in the plastids of other non-photosynthetic euglenophytes. This, along with investigation of ptDNA structure, will bring new insights into the evolutionary processes shaping the diversity of eukaryotic plastids.

  • This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License.

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