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The origin of red algae and the evolution of chloroplasts


Chloroplast structure and genome analyses support the hypothesis that three groups of organisms originated from the primary photosynthetic endosymbiosis between a cyanobacterium and a eukaryotic host: green plants (green algae + land plants), red algae and glaucophytes (for example, Cyanophora)1. Although phylogenies based on several mitochondrial genes support a specific green plants/red algae relationship2,3, the phylogenetic analysis of nucleus-encoded genes yields inconclusive, sometimes contradictory results3,4. To address this problem, we have analysed an alternative nuclear marker, elongation factor 2, and included new red algae and protist sequences. Here we provide significant support for a sisterhood of green plants and red algae. This sisterhood is also significantly supported by a multi-gene analysis of a fusion of 13 nuclear markers (5,171 amino acids). In addition, the analysis of an alternative fusion of 6 nuclear markers (1,938 amino acids) indicates that glaucophytes may be the closest relatives to the green plants/red algae group. Thus, our study provides evidence from nuclear markers for a single primary endosymbiosis at the origin of these groups, and supports a kingdom Plantae comprising green plants, red algae and glaucophytes5.

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Figure 1: Maximum likelihood tree of eukaryotic EF-2 protein sequences.
Figure 2: Maximum likelihood tree inferred from exhaustive analysis of fusions F1 (13 genes, 5,171 sites) (a) and F2 (6 genes, 1,938 sites) (b ); ML, NJ and MP bootstrap proportions are shown for the green plants/red algae and green plants/red algae/glaucophytes nodes, respectively.

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We thank P. Lopez, P. López-García and M. Müller for critical reading of the manuscript; C. R. Engel for DNA samples; G. Fryd for cultures; N. Narradon for technical help; and the Kazusa Institute, Marine Biological Laboratory, Sanger Centre, Stanford Centre, the Institute of Genomic Research and Tsukuba Laboratory for access to sequence data. D. M. is the recipient of a stipend from the Fondation des Treilles.

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Correspondence to David Moreira.

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Moreira, D., Le Guyader, H. & Philippe, H. The origin of red algae and the evolution of chloroplasts. Nature 405, 69–72 (2000).

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