Open Access Research article

Polyphyletic origin of the genus Physarum (Physarales, Myxomycetes) revealed by nuclear rDNA mini-chromosome analysis and group I intron synapomorphy

Satish CR Nandipati1, Kari Haugli1, Dag H Coucheron1, Edward F Haskins2 and Steinar D Johansen1*

Author affiliations

1 RNA and Transcriptomics group, Department of Medical Biology, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Tromsø, MH-building Breivika, N-9037, Tromsø, Norway

2 Department of Biology, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington, USA

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Citation and License

BMC Evolutionary Biology 2012, 12:166  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-12-166

Published: 31 August 2012



Physarales represents the largest taxonomic order among the plasmodial slime molds (myxomycetes). Physarales is of particular interest since the two best-studied myxomycete species, Physarum polycephalum and Didymium iridis, belong to this order and are currently subjected to whole genome and transcriptome analyses. Here we report molecular phylogeny based on ribosomal DNA (rDNA) sequences that includes 57 Physarales isolates.


The Physarales nuclear rDNA sequences were found to be loaded with 222 autocatalytic group I introns, which may complicate correct alignments and subsequent phylogenetic tree constructions. Phylogenetic analysis of rDNA sequences depleted of introns confirmed monophyly of the Physarales families Didymiaceae and Physaraceae. Whereas good correlation was noted between phylogeny and taxonomy among the Didymiaceae isolates, significant deviations were seen in Physaraceae. The largest genus, Physarum, was found to be polyphyletic consisting of at least three well supported clades. A synapomorphy, located at the highly conserved G-binding site of L2449 group I intron ribozymes further supported the Physarum clades.


Our results provide molecular relationship of Physarales genera, species, and isolates. This information is important in further interpretations of comparative genomics nd transcriptomics. In addition, the result supports a polyphyletic origin of the genus Physarum and calls for a reevaluation of current taxonomy.