Chromophyte algae differ fundamentally from plants in possessing chloroplasts that contain chlorophyll c and that have a more complex bounding-membrane topology. Although chromophytes are known to be evolutionary chimaeras of a red alga and a non-photosynthetic host, which gave rise to their exceptional membrane complexity, their cell biology is poorly understood. Cryptomonads are the only chromophytes that still retain the enslaved red algal nucleus as a minute nucleomorph. Here we report complete sequences for all three nucleomorph chromosomes from the cryptomonad Guillardia theta. This tiny 551-kilobase eukaryotic genome is the most gene-dense known, with only 17 diminutive spliceosomal introns and 44 overlapping genes. Marked evolutionary compaction hundreds of millions of years ago eliminated nearly all the nucleomorph genes for metabolic functions, but left 30 for chloroplast-located proteins. To allow expression of these proteins, nucleomorphs retain hundreds of genetic-housekeeping genes. Nucleomorph DNA replication and periplastid protein synthesis require the import of many nuclear gene products across endoplasmic reticulum and periplastid membranes. The chromosomes have centromeres, but possibly only one loop domain, offering a means for studying eukaryotic chromosome replication, segregation and evolution.
- Pub Date:
- April 2001