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Molecular genetic evidence that dinoflagellates belonging to the genus Symbiodinium freudenthal are haploid


Microscopic and cytological evidence suggest that many dinoflagellates possess a haploid nuclear phase. However, the ploidy of a number of dinoflagellates remains unknown, and molecular genetic support for haploidy in this group has been lacking. To elucidate the ploidy of symbiotic dinoflagellates belonging to the genus Symbiodinium, we used five polymorphic microsatellites to examine populations harbored by the Caribbean gorgonians Plexaura kuna and Pseudopterogorgia elisabethae; we also studied a series of Symbiodinium cultures. In 690 out of 728 Symbiodinium samples in hospite (95% of the cases) and in all 45 Symbiodinium cultures, only a single allele was recovered per locus. Statistical testing of the Symbiodinium populations harbored by P. elisabethae revealed that the observed genotype frequencies deviate significantly from those expected under Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium. Taken together, our results confirm that, in the vegetative life stage, members of Symbiodinium, both cultured and in hospite, are haploid. Furthermore, based on the phylogenetics of the dinoflagellates, haploidy in vegetative cells appears to be an ancestral trait that extends to all 2,000 extant species of these important unicellular protists.