Biology Faculty Articles


Phylogenetic analysis identifies the invertebrate pathogen Helicosporidium sp. as a green alga (Chlorophyta)

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International Journal of Systemic and Evolutionary Microbiology





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Historically, the invertebrate pathogens of the genus Helicosporidium were considered to be either protozoa or fungi, but the taxonomic position of this group has not been considered since 1931. Recently, a Helicosporidium sp., isolated from the blackfly Simulium jonesi Stone & Snoddy (Diptera: Simuliidae), has been amplified in the heterologous host Helicoverpa zea. Genomic DNA has been extracted from gradient-purified cysts. The 185, 28S and 5.8S regions of the Helicosporidium rDNA, as well as partial sequences of the actin and beta-tubulin genes, were amplified by PCR and sequenced. Comparative analysis of these nucleotide sequences was performed using neighbour-joining and maximum-parsimony methods. All inferred phylogenetic trees placed Helicosporidium sp. among the green algae (Chlorophyta), and this association was supported by bootstrap and parsimony jackknife values. Phylogenetic analysis focused on the green algae depicted Helicosporidium sp. as a close relative of Prototheca wickerhamii and Prototheca zopfii (Chlorophyta, Trebouxiophyceae), two achlorophylous, pathogenic green algae. On the basis of this phylogenetic analysis, Helicosporidium sp. is clearly neither a protist nor a fungus, but appears to be the first described algal invertebrate pathogen. These conclusions lead us to propose the transfer of the genus Helicosporidium to Chlorophyta, Trebouxiophyceae.