Open Access Research

Gene functionalities and genome structure in Bathycoccus prasinos reflect cellular specializations at the base of the green lineage

Hervé Moreau12*, Bram Verhelst34, Arnaud Couloux5, Evelyne Derelle12, Stephane Rombauts34, Nigel Grimsley12, Michiel Van Bel34, Julie Poulain5, Michaël Katinka5, Martin F Hohmann-Marriott6, Gwenael Piganeau12, Pierre Rouzé34, Corinne Da Silva5, Patrick Wincker5, Yves Van de Peer34 and Klaas Vandepoele34

Author Affiliations

1 CNRS, UMR 7232, Observatoire Océanologique, Banyuls-sur-Mer, France

2 UPMC Univ Paris 06, UMR 7232, Observatoire Océanologique, Banyuls-sur-Mer, France

3 Department of Plant Systems Biology, VIB, Technologiepark 927, B-9052 Ghent, Belgium

4 Department of Plant Biotechnology and Bioinformatics, Ghent University, Technologiepark 927, B-9052 Ghent, Belgium

5 Genoscope, CEA, Institut de Génomique, 2 rue Gaston Crémieux CP5706, 91057 Evry cedex, France

6 Department of Biotechnology, Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), 7491 Trondheim, Norway †These two authors contributed equally to this work

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Genome Biology 2012, 13:R74  doi:10.1186/gb-2012-13-8-r74

Published: 24 August 2012



Bathycoccus prasinos is an extremely small cosmopolitan marine green alga whose cells are covered with intricate spider's web patterned scales that develop within the Golgi cisternae before their transport to the cell surface. The objective of this work is to sequence and analyze its genome, and to present a comparative analysis with other known genomes of the green lineage.


Its small genome of 15 Mb consists of 19 chromosomes and lacks transposons. Although 70% of all B. prasinos genes share similarities with other Viridiplantae genes, up to 428 genes were probably acquired by horizontal gene transfer, mainly from other eukaryotes. Two chromosomes, one big and one small, are atypical, an unusual synapomorphic feature within the Mamiellales. Genes on these atypical outlier chromosomes show lower GC content and a significant fraction of putative horizontal gene transfer genes. Whereas the small outlier chromosome lacks colinearity with other Mamiellales and contains many unknown genes without homologs in other species, the big outlier shows a higher intron content, increased expression levels and a unique clustering pattern of housekeeping functionalities. Four gene families are highly expanded in B. prasinos, including sialyltransferases, sialidases, ankyrin repeats and zinc ion-binding genes, and we hypothesize that these genes are associated with the process of scale biogenesis.


The minimal genomes of the Mamiellophyceae provide a baseline for evolutionary and functional analyses of metabolic processes in green plants.