The Helicosporidia are invertebrate pathogens that have recently been identified as non-photosynthetic green algae (Chlorophyta). In order to confirm the algal nature of the genus Helicosporidium, the presence of a retained chloroplast genome in Helicosporidia cells was investigated. Fragments homologous to plastid 16S rRNA (rrn16) genes were amplified successfully from cellular DNA extracted from two different Helicosporidium isolates. The fragment sequences are 1269 and 1266 bp long, are very AT-rich (60.7 %) and are similar to homologous genes sequenced from non-photosynthetic green algae. Maximum-parsimony, maximum-likelihood and neighbour-joining methods were used to infer phylogenetic trees from an rrn16 sequence alignment. All trees depicted the Helicosporidia as sister taxa to the non-photosynthetic, pathogenic alga Prototheca zopfii. Moreover, the trees identified Helicosporidium spp. as members of a clade that included the heterotrophic species Prototheca spp. and the mesotrophic species Chlorella protothecoides. The clade is always strongly supported by bootstrap values, suggesting that all these organisms share a most recent common ancestor. Phylogenetic analyses inferred from plastid 16S rRNA genes confirmed that the Helicosporidia are non-photosynthetic green algae, close relatives of the genus Prototheca (Chlorophyta, Trebouxiophyceae). Such phylogenetic affinities suggest that Helicosporidium spp. are likely to possess Prototheca-like organelles and organelle genomes.
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