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  • Received 9 November 2010. Accepted 3 November 2011.


Glutamine synthetase (GS) is encoded by three distinct gene families (GSI, GSII, and GSIII) that are broadly distributed among the three domains of life. Previous studies established that GSII and GSIII isoenzymes were expressed in diatoms; however, less is known about the distribution and evolution of the gene families in other chromalveolate lineages. Thus, GSII cDNA sequences were isolated from three cryptophytes (Guillardia theta D. R. A. Hill et Wetherbee, Cryptomonas phaseolus Skuja, and Pyrenomonas helgolandii Santore), and GSIII was sequenced from G. theta. Red algal GSII sequences were obtained from Bangia atropurpurea (Mertens ex Roth) C. Agardh; Compsopogon caeruleus (Balbis ex C. Agardh) Mont.; Flintiella sanguinaria F. D. Ott and Porphyridium aerugineum Geitler; Rhodella violacea (Kornmann) Wehrmeyer and Dixoniella grisea (Geitler) J. L. Scott, S. T. Broadwater, B. D. Saunders, J. P. Thomas et P. W. Gabrielson; and Stylonema alsidii (Zanardini) K. M. Drew. In Bayesian inference and maximum-likelihood (ML) phylogenetic analyses, chromalveolate GSII sequences formed a weakly supported clade that nested among sequences from glaucophytes, red algae, green algae, and plants. Red algal GSII sequences formed two distinct clades. The largest clade contained representatives from the Cyanidiophytina and Rhodophytina and grouped with plants and green algae. The smaller clade (C. caeruleus, Porphyra yezoensis, and S. alsidii) nested within the chromalveolates, although its placement was unresolved. Chromalveolate GSIII sequences formed a well-supported clade in Bayesian and ML phylogenies, and mitochondrial transit peptides were identified in many of the sequences. There was strong support for a stramenopile-haptophyte-cryptophyte GSIII clade in which the cryptophyte sequence diverged from the deepest node. Overall, the evolutionary history of the GS gene families within the algae is complex with evidence for the presence of orthologous and paralogous sequences, ancient and recent gene duplications, gene losses and replacements, and the potential for both endosymbiotic and lateral gene transfers.