The others: our biased perspective of eukaryotic genomes


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Published at Trends in Ecology and Evolution

The others: our biased perspective of eukaryotic genomes

Javier del Campo, Michael E. Sieracki, Robert Molestina, Patrick Keeling, Ramon Massana, Iñaki Ruiz-Trillo

Understanding the origin and evolution of the eukaryotic cell and the full diversity of eukaryotes is relevant to many biological disciplines. However, our current understanding of eukaryotic genomes is extremely biased, leading to a skewed view of eukaryotic biology. We argue that a phylogeny-driven initiative to cover the full eukaryotic diversity is needed to overcome this bias. We encourage the community: (i) to sequence a representative of the neglected groups available at public culture collections, (ii) to increase our culturing efforts, and (iii) to embrace single cell genomics to access organisms refractory to propagation in culture. We hope that the community will welcome this proposal, explore the approaches suggested, and join efforts to sequence the full diversity of eukaryotes.

Media coverage

Culturing Bias in Marine Heterotrophic Flagellates Analyzed Through Seawater Enrichment Incubations

Published this weeks ago at Microbial Ecology

Culturing Bias in Marine Heterotrophic Flagellates Analyzed Through Seawater Enrichment Incubations

Javier del Campo, Vanessa Balagué, Irene Forn, Itziar Lekunberri and Ramon Massana

The diversity of heterotrophic flagellates is generally based on cultivated strains, on which ultrastructural, physiological, and molecular studies have been performed. However, the relevance of these cultured strains as models of the dominant heterotrophic flagellates in the marine planktonic environment is unclear. In fact, molecular surveys typically recover novel eukaryotic lineages that have refused cultivation so far. This study was designed to directly address the culturing bias in planktonic marine heterotrophic flagellates. Several microcosms were established adding increasing amounts and sources of organic matter to a confined natural microbial community pre-filtered by 3 μm. Growth dynamics were followed by epifluorescence microscopy and showed the expected higher yield of bacteria and heterotrophic flagellates at increased organic matter additions. Moreover, protist diversity analyzed by molecular tools showed a clear substitution in the community, which differed more and more from the initial sample as the organic matter increased. Within this gradient, there was also an increase of sequences related to cultured organisms as well as a decrease in diversity. Culturing bias is partly explained by the use of organic matter in the isolation process, which drives a shift in the community to conditions closer to laboratory cultures. An intensive culturing effort using alternative isolation methods is necessary to allow the access to the missing heterotrophic flagellates that constitute the abundant and active taxa in marine systems.

Taming the smallest predators of the oceans

Minorisa minuta gen. nov. sp. nov.

It was published two weeks ago at The ISME Journal.

Taming the smallest predators of the oceans

Javier del Campo, Fabrice Not, Irene Forn, Michael E Sieracki and Ramon Massana

Protists (unicellular eukaryotes) arguably account for most eukaryotic diversity and are central players of the biosphere. Known protist diversity and biology is largely based on cultured strains. Yet, environmental molecular surveys have unveiled entirely novel lineages that, as their prokaryotic counterparts, are essentially uncultured. Culture bias is an important drawback for any microbe-related science and is particularly severe for heterotrophic protists, which depend on organic food sources for growth. Here, we show how ecologically significant bacterivorous protists have been brought into culture by mimicking in situ conditions. Single cells sorted by serial dilution or flow cytometry were inoculated into seawater amended with natural bacterial assemblage at nearly in situ abundances. Strains belonging to lineages only known so far from environmental sequencing were isolated. Among them, Minorisa minuta gen. nov. sp. nov. forms a novel branch within Rhizaria, holding a key evolutionary position, and with an average size of 1.4 μm represents one of the smallest bacterial grazers known to date. It has a worldwide planktonic distribution and can account for 5% of heterotrophic protists communities in coastal waters. Physiological features of this strain can partly explain its success in the environment. Culturing ecologically relevant but elusive protists provide invaluable material for ecophysiology, genomics, ecosystem modeling and evolutionary issues.