Generation of genetic diversity in microsporidia via sexual reproduction and horizontal gene transfer

Soo Chan Lee, Louis M. Weiss, Joseph Heitman

Research output: Contribution to journalComment/debatepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


Microsporidia are obligate intracellular pathogens mainly infecting both vertebrate and invertebrate hosts. The group comprises approximately 150 genera with 1,200 species. Due to sequence divergence phylogenic reconstructions that are solely based on DNA sequence have been unprecise for these pathogens. Our previous study identified that three microsporidian genomes contained a putative sex-related locus similar to that of zygomycetes. In a comparison of genome architecture of the microsporidia to other fungi, Rhizopus oryzae, a zygomycete fungus, shared more common gene clusters with Encephalitozoon cuniculi, a microsporidian. This provides evidence supporting the hypothesis that microsporidia and zygomycete fungi may share a more recent common ancestor than other fungal lineages. Genetic recombination is an important outcome of sexual development. We describe genetic markers which will enable tests of whether sex occurs within E. cuniculi populations by analyzing tandem repeat DNA regions in three different isolates. Taken together, the phylogenetic relationship of microsporidia to fungi and the presence of a sex-related locus in their genomes suggest the microsporidia may have an extant sexual cycle. In addition, we describe recently reported evidence of horizontal gene transfer from Chlamydia to the E. cuniculi genome and show that these two obligate intracellular pathogens can infect the same host cells.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)414-417
Number of pages4
JournalCommunicative and Integrative Biology
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2009


  • Chlamydia
  • E. cuniculi
  • Fungi
  • Sexual reproduction
  • Zygomycete

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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