Volvox rousseletii in Japan

A few years back, I invited Dr. Hisayoshi Nozaki to visit the University of Montana, and to my surprise, he came. In fact, five Japanese researchers came to Missoula for the better part of a week: Dr. Nozaki, Dr. Noriko Ueki, Dr. Osami Misumi, and two undergraduate researchers. We found a speciesVolvox capensis, which had previously only ever been found in South Africa, in Ninepipe Reservoir (about an hour north of Missoula).

Now Ryosuke Kimbara and colleagues have reported another apparent long-distance traveller. In a new paper in PLoS One, they report finding Volvox rousseletii, previously reported only in Africa, in Lake Sagami in Japan. Volvox rousseletii is a member of the group of species known as Volvox section Volvox (also sometimes referred to as Euvolvox), which includes the largest species (in terms of cell number) and evolved independently of the other species in the genus Volvox.

Kimbara Fig. 1

Figure 1 from Kimbara et al. 2019. Light microscopic features of asexual spheroids in culture of Volvox rousseletii strain v-sgm-17 from Lake Sagami, Japan. (A) Mature spheroid showing daughter spheroids (d). (B-D) Part of spheroids. (B) Top view of individual sheaths (asterisks) of somatic cells stained with methylene blue. (C) Top view of somatic cells with thick cytoplasmic bridges (b). (D) Side view of elongate-ellipsoidal, anterior somatic cell with stigma (s) and pyrenoid (p) in the chloroplast. (E) Developing embryo just after inversion, showing gonidia (g) of the next generation.

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Why carteri?

It’s embarrassing, really. I’ve been studying Volvox and its relatives for 15 years now, and until today I couldn’t have told you who the most famous member of the group, Volvox carteri, was named for. Sure, I know Colemanosphaera is named for Annette Coleman, Volvox ferrisii for Patrick Ferris, and Volvox kirkiorum (“of the Kirks”) for David and Marilyn Kirk, but that’s because they were all named after I started studying Volvox.

But do you recall…the most famous algae of all?

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Reminder: early bird registration for Volvox 2019 ends soon

Volvox 2019 logo

If you’re planning to go to the Fifth International Volvox Conference, it’s time to get a move on. Early bird registration and, more importantly, abstract submission end Saturday. Registration is open (at a slightly higher rate) until July 13, but if you want to present a poster or talk, the June 1 deadline applies.

The meeting is July 26-28 in Tokyo and includes a July 29 excursion to the NIES microbial culture collection and the National Museum of Nature and Science.

Reminder: tomorrow is the deadline for the Kato Memorial Bioscience Foundation travel fellowship

¥50,000 is ¥50,000! Applications for travel fellowships from the Kato Memorial Bioscience Foundation for the Fifth International Volvox Meeting are due tomorrow. These fellowships are to help non-Japanese students and postdocs travel to Tokyo for the meeting. ¥50,000 is around $500, a pretty good return for an easy application. Answer a few questions, send an email, and your trip could be $500 cheaper:

Applicants are required to submit a pdf file of the completed application form (download here) to Volvox2019 Office (E-mail: volvox2019 (at)

The Royal Society of Biology deadline is also coming up soon (March 1).

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Say hello to Volvox zeikusii!

Volvox zeikusii

Figures 13-20 from Nozaki et al. 2019*. Light microscopy of female strain of Volvox zeikusii Nozaki. Abbreviations: c, cytoplasmic bridges; d, daughter spheroid or developing embryo; e, egg; i, individual sheath; p, pyrenoid; s, stigma.
Figs 13–19. Asexual spheroids. Fig. 13. Optical section of spheroid. Scale bar = 50 μm. Fig. 14. Optical section of spheroid stained with methylene blue. Scale bar = 50 μm. Fig. 15. Front view of somatic cells showing cytoplasmic bridges. Scale bar = 20 μm. Fig. 16. Front view of somatic cells showing individual sheaths of the gelatinous matrix stained with methylene blue. Scale bar = 20 μm. Fig. 17. Lateral optical section of somatic cells positioned in anterior region of spheroid. Scale bar = 20 μm. Fig. 18. Surface view of somatic cells positioned in anterior region of spheroid. Scale bar = 20 μm. Fig. 19. Surface view of newly formed daughter spheroid. Scale bar = 50 μm. Fig. 20. Sexual female spheroid. Scale bar = 200 μm.

Hisayoshi Nozaki and colleagues have discovered a new species of VolvoxVolvox zeikusii. Or more accurately, they have discovered new strains of an old species and decided that some of the old strains with that name are something else.

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New Volvocalean phylogeny

My postdoc makes fun of me for having a lousy memory. Not long ago she showed me a paper about microRNAs, and I said I hadn’t read it. She responded, “Yes you have; you blogged about it!” The other day we were discussing the use of antibiotics to prevent bacterial contamination, and I said I thought I might have done that at one time. She told me I had, it was ampicillin, and the concentration.

I’ve been blogging for nearly four years now, and I’ve published well over 400 posts. So I’ve learned that before I sink a bunch of time into writing a new blog post, it’s worth a quick search to make sure I’m not going to repeat myself. When a new paper from Takashi Nakada and colleagues popped up in my Google Scholar alerts, I didn’t immediately realize that I had already written about it. That post was mainly about a new analysis by Thomas Pröschold and colleagues, with the Nakada trees serving as a point of comparison. The new paper is worth its own post, though.

A group of researchers from Keio University have published a new analysis of evolutionary relationships among green algae in the order Volvocales. Takashi Nakada, Yudai Tsuchida, and Masaru Tomita inferred relationships using one nuclear gene and five chloroplast genes.

Nakada et al. 2019 graphical abstract

Graphical abstract from Nakada et al. 2019 showing Chlamydomonas pila as sister to the multicellular volvocine algae (Tetrabaena, Gonium, Volvox).

Previously, I focused on the monophyly of the multicellular volvocine algae, i.e. the Tetrabaenaceae, Goniaceae, and Volvocaceae (TGV). The multigene analysis shown above supports monophyly, although the support values for the critical node are not shown (meaning that the Bayesian posterior probability is <0.90 and the bootstrap proportions are <50%). Similarly, the new phylogeny doesn’t do much to resolve the backbone relationships within the Volvocaceae. There are differences from previous analyses that would be important if true, specifically in the positions of Volvox globator (the sole representative of Volvox section Volvox) and of Yamagishiella (which appears as part of an isogamous clade rather than sister to the anisogamous/oogamous Eudorina/Pleodorina/(most) Volvox clade). Neither of these differences is well supported, though, which is typical; most published phylogenies provide poor support for these relationships.

Nakada et al. 2019 Fig. 2

Figure 2 from Nakada et al. 2019. Bayesian phylogenetic tree of core-Reinhardtinia based on combined 18S-atpB-psaA-psaB-psbC-rbcL gene sequences. Corresponding posterior probabilities (≥0.90; left) and bootstrap proportions (≥50%) from maximum likelihood (middle) and neighbor-joining (right) analyses are shown next to the branches. Branch lengths and scale bars represent the expected number of nucleotide substitutions per site. Metaclades (MC; 1.00 posterior probabilities).

The main point of the new paper, though, is the close relationship between the multicellular volvocine algae and Chlamydomonas pila. The critical node for this relationship is is supported by a high Bayesian posterior probability (1.00) but crappy bootstrap values (55% for maximum likelihood and <50% for neighbor joining). The authors did do some analyses with fewer taxa to test this relationship, and those trees did have better support, but they also changed other relationships.

Correctly identifying the closest unicellular relative of the multicellular volvocine algae is critical for reconstructing the first steps in the transition to multicellular life. This is far from the first time that other species of Chlamydomonas and some of Vitreochlamys have been implicated. I’m not aware of any previous phylogeny that includes Chlamydomonas pila, but Chlamydomonas debaryana (for example) is usually closer when it is included.

I wouldn’t say that the evolutionary relationships in this group are fully settled at this point; the particulars vary among authors, depending on the gene(s) analyzed, and even depending on the method of phylogenetic inference. Even the monophyly of the multicellular species has been called into question, though I think it’s definitely too early to be confident in that conclusion. Right now it seems that Chlamydomonas pila is the best contender for the sister species to the multicellular clade, and almost certainly a closer relative to Volvox and co. than Chlamydomonas reinhardtii. As the authors point out, this makes C. pila a good candidate for whole-genome sequencing. The closer a relative to the multicellular group we can find, the better we can resolve which changes are specific to the multicellular clade.


Stable links:

Nakada, T., Tsuchida, Y. & Tomita, M. 2019. Improved taxon sampling and multigene phylogeny of unicellular chlamydomonads closely related to the colonial volvocalean lineage Tetrabaenaceae-Goniaceae-Volvocaceae (Volvocales, Chlorophyceae). Mol. Phylogenet. Evol. 130, 1–8. doi: 10.1016/j.ympev.2018.09.013

“It was I who destroyed Ehrenberg’s theory”

Volvox globator

Volvox globator Ehrenberg (frontispiece of Julian Huxley’s The Individual in the Animal Kingdom, after A. Lang).

“The Diamond Lens” is a short story published by the Irish writer Fitz-James O’Brien in 1858. It describes the quest of an obsessed amateur microscopist for ever greater degrees of magnification, a goal for which he is willing to go to exceptional lengths. O’Brien was apparently known for mixing scientific themes with mysticism, and “The Diamond Lens” certainly fits this description. I won’t spoil it any further; interested readers can download the story for free (in several formats) from The Gutenberg Project.

As the narrator and protagonist becomes a proficient microscopist, he encounters Volvox:

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