Erick R James

Canadian Institute For Advanced Research, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

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Publications (14)55.36 Total impact

  • [show abstract] [hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Historically, symbiotic protists in termite hindguts have been considered to be the same species if they are morphologically similar, even if they are found in different host species. For example, the first-described hindgut and hypermastigote parabasalian, Trichonympha agilis (Leidy, 1877) has since been documented in six species of Reticulitermes, in addition to the original discovery in R. flavipes. Here we re-visit one of these, R. virginicus, using molecular phylogenetic analysis from single-cell isolates and show the Trichonympha in R. virginicus is distinct from isolates in the type host, and describe this new species as T. burlesquei. We also show the molecular diversity of Trichonympha from the type host R. flavipes is greater than supposed, itself probably representing more than one species. All of this is consistent with recent data suggesting a major underestimate of termite symbiont diversity.
    INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF SYSTEMATIC AND EVOLUTIONARY MICROBIOLOGY 08/2013; · 2.11 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Staurojoenina is a large and structurally complex genus of hypermastigont parabasalians found in the hindgut of lower termites. Although several species of Staurojoenina have been described worldwide, all Staurojoenina observed to date in different species of North American termites have been treated as the same species, S. assimilis. Here, we characterize Staurojoenina from the North American termite Neotermes jouteli using light microscopy, scanning electron microscopy, and phylogenetic analysis of small subunit ribosomal RNA, and compare it with S. assimilis from its type host, Incisitermes minor. The basic morphological characteristics of the N. jouteli symbiont, including its abundant bacterial epibionts, are similar as far as they may be compared with existing data from S. assimilis, although not consistently identical. In contrast, we find that they are extremely distantly related at the molecular level, sharing a pairwise similarity of SSU rRNA genes comparable to that seen between different genera or even families of other parabasalians. Based on their evolutionary distance and habitat in different termite genera, we consider the N. jouteli Staurojoenina to be distinct from S. assimilis, and describe a new species, Staurojoenina mulleri, in honor of the pioneering parabasalian researcher, Miklos Muller.
    Journal of Eukaryotic Microbiology 02/2013; · 2.16 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: An important and undervalued challenge in characterizing symbiotic protists is the accurate identification of their host species. Here, we use DNA barcoding to resolve one confusing case involving parabasalian symbionts in the hindgut of the Hawaiian lowland tree termite, Incisitermes immigrans, which is host to several parabasalians, including the type species for the genus Coronympha, C. clevelandii. We collected I. immigrans from its type locality (Hawaii), confirmed its identity by DNA barcoding, and characterized the phylogenetic position of two symbionts, C. clevelandii and Trichonympha subquasilla. These data show that previous molecular surveys of "I. immigrans" are, in fact, mainly derived from the Caribbean termite I. schwarzi, and perhaps also another related species. These results emphasize the need for host barcoding, clarify the relationship between morphologically distinct Coronympha species, and also suggest some interesting distribution patterns of nonendemic termite species and their symbionts.
    Journal of Eukaryotic Microbiology 02/2013; · 2.16 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: The parabasalian symbionts of lower termite hindgut communities are well-known for their large size and structural complexity. The most complex forms evolved multiple times independently from smaller and simpler flagellates, but we know little of the diversity of these small flagellates or their phylogenetic relationships to more complex lineages. To understand the true diversity of Parabasalia and how their unique cellular complexity arose, more data from smaller and simpler flagellates are needed. Here, we describe two new genera of small-to-intermediate size and complexity, represented by the type species Cthulhu macrofasciculumque and Cthylla microfasciculumque from Prorhinotermes simplex and Reticulitermes virginicus, respectively (both hosts confirmed by DNA barcoding). Both genera have a single anterior nucleus embeded in a robust protruding axostyle, and an anterior bundle flagella (and likely a single posterior flagellum) that emerge slightly subanteriorly and have a distinctive beat pattern. Cthulhu is relatively large and has a distinctive bundle of over 20 flagella whereas Cthylla is smaller, has only 5 anterior flagella and closely resembles several other parababsalian genera. Molecular phylogenies based on small subunit ribosomal RNA (SSU rRNA) show both genera are related to previously unidentified environmental sequences from other termites (possibly from members of the Tricercomitidae), which all branch as sisters to the Hexamastigitae. Altogether, Cthulhu likely represents another independent origin of relatively high cellular complexity within parabasalia, and points to the need for molecular characterization of other key taxa, such as Tricercomitus.
    PLoS ONE 01/2013; 8(3):e58509. · 3.73 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: To aid in their digestion of wood, lower termites are known to harbour a diverse community of prokaryotes as well as parabasalid and oxymonad protist symbionts. One of the best-studied lower termite gut communities is that of Zootermopsis angusticollis which has been known for almost 100 years to possess 3 species of Trichonympha (T. campanula, T. collaris, and T. sphaerica), 1 species of Trichomitopsis (T. termopsidis), as well as smaller flagellates. We have re-assessed this community by sequencing the small subunit (SSU) rRNA gene and the internal transcribed spacer (ITS) region from a large number of single Trichonympha and Trichomitopsis cells for which morphology was also documented. Based on phylogenetic clustering and sequence divergence, we identify 3 new species: Trichonympha postcylindrica, Trichomitopsis minor, and Trichomitopsis parvus spp. nov. Once identified by sequencing, the morphology of the isolated cells for all 3 new species was re-examined and found to be distinct from the previously described species: Trichonympha postcylindrica can be morphologically distinguished from the other Trichonympha species by an extension on its posterior end, whereas Trichomitopsis minor and T. parvus are smaller than T. termopsidis but similar in size to each other and cannot be distinguished based on morphology using light microscopy. Given that Z. angusticollis has one of the best characterized hindgut communities, the near doubling of the number of the largest and most easily identifiable symbiont species suggests that the diversity of hindgut symbionts is substantially underestimated in other termites as well. Accurate descriptions of the diversity of these microbial communities are essential for understanding hindgut ecology and disentangling the interactions among the symbionts, and molecular barcoding should be a priority for these systems.
    PLoS ONE 01/2013; 8(3):e58728. · 3.73 Impact Factor
  • Nature Communications 01/2012; 3:822. · 10.02 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Photosynthetic euglenids acquired their plastid by secondary endosymbiosis of a prasinophyte-like green alga. But unlike its prasinophyte counterparts, the plastid genome of the euglenid Euglena gracilis is riddled with introns that interrupt almost every protein-encoding gene. The atypical group II introns and twintrons (introns-within-introns) found in the E. gracilis plastid have been hypothesized to have been acquired late in the evolution of euglenids, implying that massive numbers of introns may be lacking in other taxa. This late emergence was recently corroborated by the plastid genome sequences of the two basal euglenids, Eutreptiella gymnastica and Eutreptia viridis, which were found to contain fewer introns. To gain further insights into the proliferation of introns in euglenid plastids, we have characterized the complete plastid genome sequence of Monomorphina aenigmatica, a freshwater species occupying an intermediate phylogenetic position between early and late branching euglenids. The M. aenigmatica UTEX 1284 plastid genome (74,746 bp, 70.6% A+T, 87 genes) contains 53 intron insertion sites, of which 41 were found to be shared with other euglenids including 12 of the 15 twintron insertion sites reported in E. gracilis. The pattern of insertion sites suggests an ongoing but uneven process of intron gain in the lineage, with perhaps a minimum of two bursts of rapid intron proliferation. We also identified several sites that represent intermediates in the process of twintron evolution, where the external intron is in place, but not the internal one, offering a glimpse into how these convoluted molecular contraptions originate.
    PLoS ONE 01/2012; 7(12):e53433. · 3.73 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Pseudotrichonympha is a large hypermastigote parabasalian found in the hindgut of several species of rhinotermitid termites. The genus was discovered more than 100 years ago, and although over a dozen species have since been described, this represents only a small fraction of its likely diversity: the termite genera from which Pseudotrichonympha is known are all species rich, and in most cases their hindgut symbionts have not been examined. Even formally described species are mostly lacking in detailed microscopic data and/or sequence data. Using small subunit ribosomal RNA gene sequences and light and scanning electron microscopy we describe here the morphology and molecular phylogenetic position of two Pseudotrichonympha species: the type species for the genus, Pseudotrichonympha hertwigi from Coptotermes testaceus (described previously in line drawing only), and Pseudotrichonympha paulistana from Heterotermes tenuis (described previously based on light microscopy only).
    Journal of Eukaryotic Microbiology 09/2011; 58(6):487-96. · 2.16 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Proteorhodopsins are light-driven proton pumps involved in widespread phototrophy. Discovered in marine proteobacteria just 10 years ago, proteorhodopsins are now known to have been spread by lateral gene transfer across diverse prokaryotes, but are curiously absent from eukaryotes. In this study, we show that proteorhodopsins have been acquired by horizontal gene transfer from bacteria at least twice independently in dinoflagellate protists. We find that in the marine predator Oxyrrhis marina, proteorhodopsin is indeed the most abundantly expressed nuclear gene and its product localizes to discrete cytoplasmic structures suggestive of the endomembrane system. To date, photosystems I and II have been the only known mechanism for transducing solar energy in eukaryotes; however, it now appears that some abundant zooplankton use this alternative pathway to harness light to power biological functions.
    Nature Communications 02/2011; 2:183. · 10.02 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Chlorarachniophytes are marine unicellular algae that possess secondary plastids of green algal origin. Although chlorarachniophytes are a small group (the phylum of Chlorarachniophyta contains 14 species in 8 genera), they have variable and complex life cycles that include amoeboid, coccoid, and/or flagellate cells. The majority of chlorarachniophytes possess two or more cell types in their life cycles, and which cell types are found is one of the principle morphological criteria used for species descriptions. Here we describe an unidentified chlorarachniophyte that was isolated from an artificial coral reef that calls this criterion into question. The life cycle of the new strain includes all three major cell types, but DNA barcoding based on the established nucleomorph ITS sequences showed it to share 100% sequence identity with Lotharella globosa. The type strain of L. globosa was also isolated from a coral reef, but is defined as completely lacking an amoeboid stage throughout its life cycle. We conclude that L. globosa possesses morphological diversity between culture strains, and that the new strain is a variety of L. globosa, which we describe as Lotharella globosa var. fortis var. nov. to include the amoeboid stage in the formal description of L. globosa. This intraspecies variation suggest that gross morphological stages maybe lost rather rapidly, and specifically that the type strain of L. globosa has lost the ability to form the amoeboid stage, perhaps recently. This in turn suggests that even major morphological characters used for taxonomy of this group may be variable in natural populations, and therefore misleading.
    PLoS ONE 01/2011; 6(8):e23193. · 3.73 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Calonymphids are a group of multinucleate, multiflagellate protists belonging to the order Cristamonadida (Parabasalia) that are found exclusively in the hindgut of termites from the family Kalotermitidae. Despite their impressive morphological complexity and diversity, few species have been formally described and fewer still have been characterized at the molecular level. In this study, four novel species of calonymphids were isolated and characterized: Calonympha chia and Snyderella yamini spp. nov., from Neotermes castaneus and Calcaritermes nearcticus from Florida, USA, and Snyderella kirbyi and Snyderella swezyae, spp. nov., from Calcaritermes nigriceps and Cryptotermes cylindroceps from Colombia. Each of these species was distinguished from its congeners by residing in a distinct host and by differences at the molecular level. Phylogenetic analyses of small subunit (SSU) rDNA indicated that the genera Calonympha and Stephanonympha were probably not monophyletic, though the genus Snyderella, previously only represented by one sequence in molecular analyses, appeared with these new data to be monophyletic. This was in keeping with the traditional evolutionary view of the group in which the morphology of the genus Snyderella is considered to be derived, while that of the genus Stephanonympha is ancestral and therefore probably plesiomorphic.
    INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF SYSTEMATIC AND EVOLUTIONARY MICROBIOLOGY 11/2010; 61(Pt 10):2547-58. · 2.11 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Chlorarachniophytes are a small group of marine photosynthetic protists. They are best known as examples of an intermediate stage of secondary endosymbiosis: their plastids are derived from green algae and retain a highly reduced nucleus, called a nucleomorph, between the inner and outer pairs of membranes. Chlorarachniophytes can be challenging to identify to the species level, due to their small size, complex life cycles, and the fact that even genus-level diagnostic morphological characters are observable only by EM. Few species have been formally described, and many available culture collection strains remain unnamed. To alleviate this difficulty, we have developed a barcoding system for rapid and accurate identification of chlorarachniophyte species in culture, based on the internal transcribed spacer (ITS) region of the nucleomorph rRNA cistron. Although this is a multicopy locus, encoded in both subtelomeric regions of each chromosome, interlocus variability is low due to gene conversion by homologous recombination in this region. Here, we present barcode sequences for 39 cultured strains of chlorarachniophytes (>80% of currently available strains). Based on barcode data, other published molecular data, and information from culture records, we were able to recommend names for 21 out of the 24 unidentified, partially identified, or misidentified chlorarachniophyte strains in culture. Most strains could be assigned to previously described species, but at least two to as many as five new species may be present among cultured strains.
    Journal of Phycology 07/2010; 46(4):743 - 750. · 2.24 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Dinoflagellates are an ecologically important group of protists with important functions as primary producers, coral symbionts and in toxic red tides. Although widely studied, the natural diversity of dinoflagellates is not well known. DNA barcoding has been utilized successfully for many protist groups. We used this approach to systematically sample known "species", as a reference to measure the natural diversity in three marine environments. In this study, we assembled a large cytochrome c oxidase 1 (COI) barcode database from 8 public algal culture collections plus 3 private collections worldwide resulting in 336 individual barcodes linked to specific cultures. We demonstrate that COI can identify to the species level in 15 dinoflagellate genera, generally in agreement with existing species names. Exceptions were found in species belonging to genera that were generally already known to be taxonomically challenging, such as Alexandrium or Symbiodinium. Using this barcode database as a baseline for cultured dinoflagellate diversity, we investigated the natural diversity in three diverse marine environments (Northeast Pacific, Northwest Atlantic, and Caribbean), including an evaluation of single-cell barcoding to identify uncultivated groups. From all three environments, the great majority of barcodes were not represented by any known cultured dinoflagellate, and we also observed an explosion in the diversity of genera that previously contained a modest number of known species, belonging to Kareniaceae. In total, 91.5% of non-identical environmental barcodes represent distinct species, but only 51 out of 603 unique environmental barcodes could be linked to cultured species using a conservative cut-off based on distances between cultured species. COI barcoding was successful in identifying species from 70% of cultured genera. When applied to environmental samples, it revealed a massive amount of natural diversity in dinoflagellates. This highlights the extent to which we underestimate microbial diversity in the environment.
    PLoS ONE 01/2010; 5(11):e13991. · 3.73 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: For the majority of microbial eukaryotes (protists, algae), there is no clearly superior species concept that is consistently applied. In the absence of a practical biological species concept, most species and genus level delineations have historically been based on morphology, which may lead to an underestimate of the diversity of microbial eukaryotes. Indeed, a growing body of molecular evidence, such as barcoding surveys, is beginning to support the conclusion that significant cryptic species diversity exists. This underestimate of diversity appears to be due to a combination of using morphology as the sole basis for assessing diversity and our inability to culture the vast majority of microbial life. Here we have used molecular markers to assess the species delineations in two related but morphologically distinct genera of uncultivated symbionts found in the hindgut of termites. Using single-cell isolation and environmental PCR, we have used a barcoding approach to characterize the diversity of Coronympha and Metacoronympha symbionts in four species of Incisitermes termites, which were also examined using scanning electron microscopy and light microcopy. Despite the fact that these genera are significantly different in morphological complexity and structural organisation, we find they are two life history stages of the same species. At the same time, we show that the symbionts from different termite hosts show an equal or greater level of sequence diversity than do the hosts, despite the fact that the symbionts are all classified as one species. The morphological information used to describe the diversity of these microbial symbionts is misleading at both the genus and species levels, and led to an underestimate of species level diversity as well as an overestimate of genus level diversity. The genus 'Metacoronympha' is invalid and appears to be a life history stage of Coronympha, while the single recognized species of Coronympha octonaria inhabiting these four termites is better described as four distinct species.
    PLoS ONE 02/2009; 4(8):e6577. · 3.73 Impact Factor