The phylum Apicomplexa (Alveolates) comprises a group of host-associated protists, predominately intracellular parasites, including devastating parasites like Plasmodium falciparum
, the causative agent of malaria. One of the more fascinating characteristics of Apicomplexa is their highly reduced (and occasionally lost) remnant plastid, termed the apicoplast. Four core metabolic pathways are retained in the apicoplast: heme synthesis, iron–sulfur cluster synthesis, isoprenoid synthesis, and fatty acid synthesis. It has been suggested that one or more of these pathways are essential for plastid and plastid genome retention. The past decade has witnessed the discovery of several apicomplexan relatives, and next-generation sequencing efforts are revealing that they retain variable plastid metabolic capacities. These data are providing clues about the core genes and pathways of reduced plastids, while at the same time further confounding our view on the evolutionary history of the apicoplast. Here, we examine the evolutionary history of the apicoplast, explore plastid metabolism in Apicomplexa and their close relatives, and propose that the differences among reduced plastids result from a game of endosymbiotic roulette. Continued exploration of the Apicomplexa and their relatives is sure to provide new insights into the evolution of the apicoplast and apicomplexans as a whole.
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License
which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited