Dinoflagellates: a remarkable evolutionary experiment 1

  1. Debashish Bhattacharya2,4
  1. 2Department of Biological Sciences and Center for Comparative Genomics, University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa 52242 USA;
  2. 3Biology Department, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, Massachusetts 02543 USA
  • Received for publication 20 January 2004.
  • Accepted for publication 4 June 2004.


In this paper, we focus on dinoflagellate ecology, toxin production, fossil record, and a molecular phylogenetic analysis of hosts and plastids. Of ecological interest are the swimming and feeding behavior, bioluminescence, and symbioses of dinoflagellates with corals. The many varieties of dinoflagellate toxins, their biological effects, and current knowledge of their origin are discussed. Knowledge of dinoflagellate evolution is aided by a rich fossil record that can be used to document their emergence and diversification. However, recent biogeochemical studies indicate that dinoflagellates may be much older than previously believed. A remarkable feature of dinoflagellates is their unique genome structure and gene regulation. The nuclear genomes of these algae are of enormous size, lack nucleosomes, and have permanently condensed chromosomes. This chapter reviews the current knowledge of gene regulation and transcription in dinoflagellates with regard to the unique aspects of the nuclear genome. Previous work shows the plastid genome of typical dinoflagellates to have been reduced to single-gene minicircles that encode only a small number of proteins. Recent studies have demonstrated that the majority of the plastid genome has been transferred to the nucleus, which makes the dinoflagellates the only eukaryotes to encode the majority of typical plastid genes in the nucleus. The evolution of the dinoflagellate plastid and the implications of these results for understanding organellar genome evolution are discussed.

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