For the dinoflagellates, an important group of single-cell protists, some nuclear rDNA phylogenetic studies have reported the discovery of rDNA pseudogenes. However, it is unknown if these aberrant molecules are confined to free-living taxa or occur in other members of the group. We have cultured a strain of symbiotic dinoflagellate, belonging to the genus Symbiodinium, which produces three distinct amplicons following PCR for nuclear small subunit (18S) rDNA genes. These amplicons contribute to a unique restriction fragment length polymorphism pattern diagnostic for this particular strain. Sequence analyses revealed that the largest amplicon was the expected region of 18S-rDNA, while the two smaller amplicons are Symbiodinium nuclear 18S-rDNA genes that contain single long tracts of nucleotide deletions. Reverse transcription (RT)-PCR experiments did not detect RNA transcripts of these latter genes, suggesting that these molecules represent the first report of nuclear 18S-rDNA pseudogenes from the genome of Symbiodinium. As in the free-living dinoflagellates, nuclear rDNA pseudogenes are effective indicators of unique Symbiodinium strains. Furthermore, the evolutionary pattern of dinoflagellate nuclear rDNA pseudogenes appears to be unique among organisms studied to date, and future studies of these unusual molecules will provide insight on the cellular biology and genomic evolution of these protists.
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Vol. 50 • No. 6