Photosynthetic dinoflagellates contain a diverse collection of plastid types, a situation believed to have arisen from multiple endosymbiotic events. In addition, a number of heterotrophic (phagotrophic) dinoflagellates possess the ability to acquire chloroplasts temporarily by engulfing algae and retaining their chloroplasts in a functional state. These latter relationships typically last from a few days to weeks, at which point the chloroplasts lose function, are digested and replaced with newly acquired plastids. A novel and abundant dinoflagellate related to the icthyotoxic genera Karenia and Karlodinium was recently discovered by us in the Ross Sea, Antarctica. Sequencing of its plastid small subunit ribosomal gene indicated that it did not share evolutionary history with the plastids of Karenia or Karlodinium, but was closely related to the free-living haptophyte Phaeocystis antarctica, a species that often dominates phytoplankton blooms in the Ross Sea. Chloroplast uptake was observed to occur rapidly (within 2 days), with retention in cultures being long-lived (several months) but not permanent. The dinoflagellate was also incapable of growing indefinitely in continuous darkness with algae as prey. Our findings may indicate an emerging endosymbiotic event yielding a dinoflagellate that is presently neither purely phototrophic nor purely heterotrophic, but occupies a niche juxtaposed between these contrasting nutritional modes.
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