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Open Access Research article

Multiple losses of sex within a single genus of Microsporidia

Joseph E Ironside

Author Affiliations

Institute of Biological Sciences, University of Wales, Aberystwyth, Ceredigion, UK

BMC Evolutionary Biology 2007, 7:48  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-7-48

Published: 29 March 2007

Abstract

Background

Most asexual eukaryotic lineages have arisen recently from sexual ancestors and contain few ecologically distinct species, providing evidence for long-term advantages of sex. Ancient asexual lineages provide rare exceptions to this rule and so can yield valuable information relating to the evolutionary forces underlying the maintenance of sex. Microsporidia are parasitic, unicellular fungi. They include many asexual species which have traditionally been grouped together into large, presumably ancient taxonomic groups. However, these putative ancient asexual lineages have been identified on the basis of morphology, life cycles and small subunit ribosomal RNA (16S rRNA) gene sequences, all of which hold questionable value in accurately inferring phylogenetic relationships among microsporidia.

Results

The hypothesis of a single, ancient loss of sex within the Nosema/Vairimorpha group of microsporidia was tested using phylogenetic analyses based on alignments of rRNA and RPB1 gene sequences from sexual and asexual species. Neither set of gene trees supported ancient asexuality, instead indicating at least two, recent losses of sex.

Conclusion

Sex has been lost on multiple, independent occasions within the Nosema/Vairimorpha group of microsporidia and there is no evidence for ancient asexual lineages. It appears therefore that sex confers important long-term advantages even upon highly simplified eukaryotes such as microsporidia. The rapid evolution of microsporidian life cycles indicated by this study also suggests that even closely related microsporidia cannot be assumed to have similar life cycles and the life cycle of each newly discovered species must therefore be completely described. These findings are relevant to the use of microsporidia as biological control agents, since several species under consideration as potential agents have life cycles that have been incompletely described.