Open Access Research article

Ecologically relevant choanoflagellates collected from hypoxic water masses of the Baltic Sea have untypical mitochondrial cristae

Claudia Wylezich1*, Sergey A Karpov2*, Alexander P Mylnikov3, Ruth Anderson1 and Klaus Jürgens1

Author Affiliations

1 IOW-Leibniz Institute for Baltic Sea Research Warnemünde, Rostock, Germany

2 Zoological Institute RAS and St. Petersburg State University, St. Petersburg, Russia

3 Institute for the Biology of Inland Waters, Russian Academy of Sciences, Borok, Russia

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BMC Microbiology 2012, 12:271  doi:10.1186/1471-2180-12-271

Published: 21 November 2012



Protist communities inhabiting oxygen depleted waters have so far been characterized through both microscopical observations and sequence based techniques. However, the lack of cultures for abundant taxa severely hampers our knowledge on the morphology, ecology and energy metabolism of hypoxic protists. Cultivation of such protists has been unsuccessful in most cases, and has never yet succeeded for choanoflagellates, even though these small bacterivorous flagellates are known to be ecologically relevant components of aquatic protist communities.


Quantitative data for choanoflagellates and the vertical distribution of Codosiga spp. at Gotland and Landsort Deep (Baltic Sea) indicate its preference for oxygen-depleted zones. Strains isolated and cultivated from these habitats revealed ultrastructural peculiarities such as mitochondria showing tubular cristae never seen before for choanoflagellates, and the first observation of intracellular prokaryotes in choanoflagellates. Analysis of their partial 28S rRNA gene sequence complements the description of two new species, Codosiga minima n. sp. and C. balthica n. sp. These are closely related with but well separated from C. gracilis (C. balthica and C. minima p-distance to C. gracilis 4.8% and 11.6%, respectively). In phylogenetic analyses the 18S rRNA gene sequences branch off together with environmental sequences from hypoxic habitats resulting in a wide cluster of hypoxic Codosiga relatives so far only known from environmental sequencing approaches.


Here, we establish the morphological and ultrastructural identity of an environmental choanoflagellate lineage. Data from microscopical observations, supplemented by findings from previous culture-independent methods, indicate that C. balthica is likely an ecologically relevant player of Baltic Sea hypoxic waters. The possession of derived mitochondria could be an adaptation to life in hypoxic environments periodically influenced by small-scale mixing events and changing oxygen content allowing the reduction of oxygen consuming components. In view of the intricacy of isolating and cultivating choanoflagellates, the two new cultured species represent an important advance to the understanding of the ecology of this group, and mechanisms of adaptations to hypoxia in protists in general.