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While photoautotrophic organisms utilize inorganic nitrogen as the nitrogen source, heterotrophic organisms utilize organic nitrogen and thus do not generally have an inorganic nitrogen assimilation pathway. Here, we focused on the nitrogen metabolism of Rapaza viridis, a unicellular eukaryote exhibiting kleptoplasty. Although belonging to the lineage of essentially heterotrophic flagellates, R. viridis exploits the photosynthetic products of the kleptoplasts and was therefore suspected to potentially utilize inorganic nitrogen. From the transcriptome data of R. viridis, we identified gene RvNaRL, which had sequence similarity to genes encoding nitrate reductases in plants. Phylogenetic analysis revealed that RvNaRL was acquired by a horizontal gene transfer event. To verify the function of the protein product RvNaRL, we established RNAi-mediated knock-down and CRISPR-Cas9-mediated knock-out experiments for the first time in R. viridis and applied them to this gene. The RvNaRL knock-down and knock-out cells exhibited significant growth only when ammonium was supplied. However, in contrast to the wild-type cells, no substantial growth was observed when nitrate was supplied. Such arrested growth in the absence of ammonium was attributed to impaired amino acid synthesis due to the deficiency of nitrogen supply from the nitrate assimilation pathway; this in turn resulted in the accumulation of excess photosynthetic products in the form of cytosolic polysaccharide grains, as observed. These results indicate that RvNaRL is certainly involved in nitrate assimilation by R. viridis. Thus, we inferred that R. viridis achieved its advanced kleptoplasty for photoautotrophy, owing to the acquisition of nitrate assimilation via horizontal gene transfer. © The Author(s) 2023. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of Japanese Society of Plant Physiologists. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail:


Moe Maruyama, Tsuyoshi Kagamoto, Yuga Matsumoto, Ryo Onuma, Shin-Ya Miyagishima, Goro Tanifuji, Masami Nakazawa, Yuichiro Kashiyama. Horizontally Acquired Nitrate Reductase Realized Kleptoplastic Photoautotrophy of Rapaza viridis. Plant & cell physiology. 2023 Sep 15;64(9):1082-1090

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PMID: 37217185

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