Email updates

Keep up to date with the latest news and content from BMC Evolutionary Biology and BioMed Central.

Open Access Open Badges Research article

Hidden genetic diversity in the green alga Spirogyra (Zygnematophyceae, Streptophyta)

Charlotte Chen1, Michael HJ Barfuss2, Thomas Pröschold13 and Michael Schagerl1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Limnology, University of Vienna, Althanstraße 14, Vienna A-1090, Austria

2 Department of Systematic and Evolutionary Botany, University of Vienna, Rennweg 14, Vienna, A-1030, Austria

3 Department Applied Limnology, University of Rostock, Albert-Einstein-Str. 3, Rostock, D-18059, Germany

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Evolutionary Biology 2012, 12:77  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-12-77

Published: 1 June 2012



The unbranched filamentous green alga Spirogyra (Streptophyta, Zygnemataceae) is easily recognizable based on its vegetative morphology, which shows one to several spiral chloroplasts. This simple structure falsely points to a low genetic diversity: Spirogyra is commonly excluded from phylogenetic analyses because the genus is known as a long-branch taxon caused by a high evolutionary rate.


We focused on this genetic diversity and sequenced 130 Spirogyra small subunit nuclear ribosomal DNA (SSU rDNA) strands of different origin. The resulting SSU rDNA sequences were used for phylogenetic analyses using complex evolutionary models (posterior probability, maximum likelihood, neighbor joining, and maximum parsimony methods). The sequences were between 1672 and 1779 nucleotides long. Sequence comparisons revealed 53 individual clones, but our results still support monophyly of the genus. Our data set did not contain a single slow-evolving taxon that would have been placed on a shorter branch compared to the remaining sequences. Out of 130 accessions analyzed, 72 showed a secondary loss of the 1506 group I intron, which formed a long-branched group within the genus. The phylogenetic relationship to the genus Spirotaenia was not resolved satisfactorily. The genetic distance within the genus Spirogyra exceeded the distances measured within any other genus of the remaining Zygnemataceae included in this study.


Overall, we define eight distinct clades of Spirogyra, one of them including the genus Sirogonium. A large number of non-homoplasious synapomorphies (NHS; 114 NHS in total) was found for Spirogyra (41 NHS) and for each clade (totaling 73 NHS). This emphasizes the high genetic diversity of this genus and the distance to the remaining Zygnematophyceae.

Zygnematales; Zygnematophyceae; Non-homoplasious synapomorphy; Spirogyra; Sirogonium; Spirotaenia; SSU rDNA; Diversity