Genome Biology and Evolution, 11(5):1398-1416, 2019. Paper Website abstract bibtex
The evolution of mitochondrial genomes and their population-genetic environment among unicellular eukaryotes are understudied. Ciliate mitochondrial genomes exhibit a unique combination of characteristics, including a linear organization and the presence of multiple genes with no known function or detectable homologs in other eukaryotes. Here we study the variation of ciliate mitochondrial genomes both within and across 13 highly diverged Paramecium species, including multiple species from the P. aurelia species complex, with four outgroup species: P. caudatum, P. multimicronucleatum, and two strains that may represent novel related species. We observe extraordinary conservation of gene order and protein-coding content in Paramecium mitochondria across species. In contrast, significant differences are observed in tRNA content and copy number, which is highly conserved in species belonging to the P. aurelia complex but variable among and even within the other Paramecium species. There is an increase in GC content from ∼20% to ∼40% on the branch leading to the P. aurelia complex. Patterns of polymorphism in population-genomic data and mutation-accumulation experiments suggest that the increase in GC content is primarily due to changes in the mutation spectra in the P. aurelia species. Finally, we find no evidence of recombination in Paramecium mitochondria and find that the mitochondrial genome appears to experience either similar or stronger efficacy of purifying selection than the nucleus.