The D1-D2 region of the large subunit ribosomal DNA as barcode for ciliates



Ciliates are a major evolutionary lineage within the alveolates, which are distributed in nearly all habitats on our planet and are an essential component for ecosystem function, processes and stability. Accurate identification of these unicellular eukaryotes through, for example, microscopy or mating type reactions is reserved to few specialists. To satisfy the demand for a DNA barcode for ciliates, which meets the standard criteria for DNA barcodes defined by the Consortium for the Barcode of Life (CBOL), we here evaluated the D1-D2 region of the ribosomal DNA large subunit (LSU-rDNA). Primer universality for the phylum Ciliophora was tested in silico with available database sequences as well as in the laboratory with 73 ciliate species, which represented nine of 12 ciliate classes. Primers tested in this study were successful for all tested classes. To test the ability of the D1-D2 region to resolve conspecific and congeneric sequence divergence, 63 Paramecium strains were sampled from 24 mating species. The average conspecific D1-D2 variation was 0.18%, whereas congeneric sequence divergence averaged 4.83%. In pairwise genetic distance analyses, we identified a D1-D2 sequence divergence of <0.6% as an ideal threshold to discriminate Paramecium species. Using this definition, only 3.8% of all conspecific and 3.9% of all congeneric sequence comparisons had the potential of false assignments. Neighbour-joining analyses inferred monophyly for all taxa but for two Paramecium octaurelia strains. Here, we present a protocol for easy DNA amplification of single cells and voucher deposition. In conclusion, the presented data pinpoint the D1-D2 region as an excellent candidate for an official CBOL barcode for ciliated protists.