Comparative molecular cell biology of phototrophic euglenids and parasitic trypanosomatids sheds light on the ancestor of Euglenozoa


Parasitic trypanosomatids and phototrophic euglenids are among the most extensively studied euglenozoans. The phototrophic euglenid lineage arose relatively recently through secondary endosymbiosis between a phagotrophic euglenid and a prasinophyte green alga that evolved into the euglenid secondary chloroplast. The parasitic trypanosomatids (i.e. Trypanosoma spp. and Leishmania spp.) and the freshwater phototrophic euglenids (i.e. Euglena gracilis) are the most evolutionary distant lineages in the Euglenozoa phylogenetic tree. The molecular and cell biological traits they share can thus be considered as ancestral traits originating in the common euglenozoan ancestor. These euglenozoan ancestral traits include common mitochondrial presequence motifs, respiratory chain complexes containing various unique subunits, a unique ATP synthase structure, the absence of mitochondria-encoded transfer RNAs (tRNAs), a nucleus with a centrally positioned nucleolus, closed mitosis without dissolution of the nuclear membrane and nucleoli, a nuclear genome containing the unusual ‘J’ base (β-D-glucosyl-hydroxymethyluracil), processing of nucleus-encoded precursor messenger RNAs (pre-mRNAs) via spliced-leader RNA (SL-RNA) trans-splicing, post-transcriptional gene silencing by the RNA interference (RNAi) pathway and the absence of transcriptional regulation of nuclear gene expression. Mitochondrial uridine insertion/deletion RNA editing directed by guide RNAs (gRNAs) evolved in the ancestor of the kinetoplastid lineage. The evolutionary origin of other molecular features known to be present only in either kinetoplastids (i.e. polycistronic transcripts, compaction of nuclear genomes) or euglenids (i.e. monocistronic transcripts, huge genomes, many nuclear cis-spliced introns, polyproteins) is unclear.

Publication Title

Biological Reviews