Culture-independent molecular methods based on the amplification, cloning and sequencing of small-subunit (SSU) rRNA genes are a powerful tool to study the diversity of prokaryotic and eukaryotic microorganisms for which morphological features are not conspicuous. In recent years, molecular data from environmental surveys have revealed several clades of protists lacking cultured and/or described members. Among them are various clades of marine stramenopiles (heterokonts), which are thought to play an essential ecological role as grazers, being abundant and distributed in oceans worldwide. In this work, we show that Solenicola setigera, a distinctive widespread colonial marine protist, is a member of the environmental clade MArine STramenopile 3 (MAST-3). Solenicola is generally considered as a parasite or an epiphyte of the diatom Leptocylindrus mediterraneus. So far, the ultrastructural, morphological and ecological data available were insufficient to elucidate its phylogenetic position, even at the division or class level. We determined SSU rRNA gene sequences of S. setigera specimens sampled from different locations and seasons in the type locality, the Gulf of Lions, France. They were closely related, though not identical, which, together with morphological differences under electron microscopy, suggest the occurrence of several species. Solenicola sequences were well nested within the MAST-3 clade in phylogenetic trees. Since Solenicola is the first identified member of this abundant marine clade, we propose the name Solenicolida for the MAST-3 phylogenetic group.
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