A Molecular Genetic Classification of Zooxanthellae and the Evolution of Animal-Algal Symbioses

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Science  15 Mar 1991:
Vol. 251, Issue 4999, pp. 1348-1351
DOI: 10.1126/science.251.4999.1348


Zooxanthellae are unicellular algae that occur as endosymbionts in many hundreds of marine invertebrate species. Because zooxanthellae have traditionally been difficult to classify, little is known about the natural history of these symbioses. Zooxanthellae were isolated from 131 individuals in 22 host taxa and characterized by the use of restriction fragment length polymorphisms (RFLPs) in nuclear genes that encode small ribosomal subunit RNA (ssRNA). Six algal RFLPs, distributed host species specifically, were detected. Individual hosts contained one algal RFLP. Zooxanthella phylogenetic relationships were estimated from 22 algal ssRNA sequences—one from each host species. Closely related algae were found in dissimilar hosts, suggesting that animal and algal lineages have maintained a flexible evolutionary relation with each other.

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