Open Access Research article

A novel type of light-harvesting antenna protein of red algal origin in algae with secondary plastids

Sabine Sturm1, Johannes Engelken23, Ansgar Gruber14*, Sascha Vugrinec1, Peter G Kroth1, Iwona Adamska2 and Johann Lavaud15

Author Affiliations

1 Ökophysiologie der Pflanzen, Fach 611, Universität Konstanz 78457 Konstanz, Germany

2 Biochemie und Physiologie der Pflanzen, Fach 602, Universität Konstanz 78457 Konstanz, Germany

3 Present address: Institute of Evolutionary Biology (CSIC-Universitat Pompeu Fabra), 08003 Barcelona,Spain

4 Present address: Department of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology, Dalhousie University, Sir Charles Tupper Medical Building, 5850 College Street, Halifax, Nova Scotia B3H 4R2, Canada

5 Present address: UMR 7266 CNRS-ULR ’LIENSs’, CNRS/University of La Rochelle, Institute for Coastal and Environmental Research, La Rochelle Cedex, France

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2013, 13:159  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-13-159

Published: 30 July 2013



Light, the driving force of photosynthesis, can be harmful when present in excess; therefore, any light harvesting system requires photoprotection. Members of the extended light-harvesting complex (LHC) protein superfamily are involved in light harvesting as well as in photoprotection and are found in the red and green plant lineages, with a complex distribution pattern of subfamilies in the different algal lineages.


Here, we demonstrate that the recently discovered “red lineage chlorophyll a/b-binding-like proteins” (RedCAPs) form a monophyletic family within this protein superfamily. The occurrence of RedCAPs was found to be restricted to the red algal lineage, including red algae (with primary plastids) as well as cryptophytes, haptophytes and heterokontophytes (with secondary plastids of red algal origin). Expression of a full-length RedCAP:GFP fusion construct in the diatom Phaeodactylum tricornutum confirmed the predicted plastid localisation of RedCAPs. Furthermore, we observed that similarly to the fucoxanthin chlorophyll a/c-binding light-harvesting antenna proteins also RedCAP transcripts in diatoms were regulated in a diurnal way at standard light conditions and strongly repressed at high light intensities.


The absence of RedCAPs from the green lineage implies that RedCAPs evolved in the red lineage after separation from the the green lineage. During the evolution of secondary plastids, RedCAP genes therefore must have been transferred from the nucleus of the endocytobiotic alga to the nucleus of the host cell, a process that involved complementation with pre-sequences allowing import of the gene product into the secondary plastid bound by four membranes. Based on light-dependent transcription and on localisation data, we propose that RedCAPs might participate in the light (intensity and quality)-dependent structural or functional reorganisation of the light-harvesting antennae of the photosystems upon dark to light shifts as regularly experienced by diatoms in nature. Remarkably, in plastids of the red lineage as well as in green lineage plastids, the phycobilisome based cyanobacterial light harvesting system has been replaced by light harvesting systems that are based on members of the extended LHC protein superfamily, either for one of the photosystems (PS I of red algae) or for both (diatoms). In their proposed function, the RedCAP protein family may thus have played a role in the evolutionary structural remodelling of light-harvesting antennae in the red lineage.

Complex plastids; Diatoms; Chloroplast; Gene transfer; Light-harvesting antenna proteins; Red lineage chlorophyll a/b-binding-like proteins