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Dinoflagellate Phylogeny as Inferred from Heat Shock Protein 90 and Ribosomal Gene Sequences

posted on 08.10.2010, 00:20 by Mona Hoppenrath, Brian S. Leander


Interrelationships among dinoflagellates in molecular phylogenies are largely unresolved, especially in the deepest branches. Ribosomal DNA (rDNA) sequences provide phylogenetic signals only at the tips of the dinoflagellate tree. Two reasons for the poor resolution of deep dinoflagellate relationships using rDNA sequences are (1) most sites are relatively conserved and (2) there are different evolutionary rates among sites in different lineages. Therefore, alternative molecular markers are required to address the deeper phylogenetic relationships among dinoflagellates. Preliminary evidence indicates that the heat shock protein 90 gene (Hsp90) will provide an informative marker, mainly because this gene is relatively long and appears to have relatively uniform rates of evolution in different lineages.

Methodology/Principal Findings

We more than doubled the previous dataset of Hsp90 sequences from dinoflagellates by generating additional sequences from 17 different species, representing seven different orders. In order to concatenate the Hsp90 data with rDNA sequences, we supplemented the Hsp90 sequences with three new SSU rDNA sequences and five new LSU rDNA sequences. The new Hsp90 sequences were generated, in part, from four additional heterotrophic dinoflagellates and the type species for six different genera. Molecular phylogenetic analyses resulted in a paraphyletic assemblage near the base of the dinoflagellate tree consisting of only athecate species. However, Noctiluca was never part of this assemblage and branched in a position that was nested within other lineages of dinokaryotes. The phylogenetic trees inferred from Hsp90 sequences were consistent with trees inferred from rDNA sequences in that the backbone of the dinoflagellate clade was largely unresolved.


The sequence conservation in both Hsp90 and rDNA sequences and the poor resolution of the deepest nodes suggests that dinoflagellates reflect an explosive radiation in morphological diversity in their recent evolutionary past. Nonetheless, the more comprehensive analysis of Hsp90 sequences enabled us to infer phylogenetic interrelationships of dinoflagellates more rigorously. For instance, the phylogenetic position of Noctiluca, which possesses several unusual features, was incongruent with previous phylogenetic studies. Therefore, the generation of additional dinoflagellate Hsp90 sequences is expected to refine the stem group of athecate species observed here and contribute to future multi-gene analyses of dinoflagellate interrelationships.