|Giardia lamblia, a parasitic diplomonad|
(Cavalier-Smith) Simpson, 2003
The excavates are a major subgroup of unicellular eukaryotes, often known as Excavata. The phylogenetic category Excavata, proposed by Cavalier-Smith in 2002, contains a variety of free-living and symbiotic forms, and also includes some important parasites of humans. Excavates were formerly considered to be included in the now obsolete Protista kingdom.
Many excavates lack 'classical' mitochondria - these organisms are often referred to as 'amitochondriate', although most, perhaps all, retain a mitochondrial organelle in greatly modified form (e.g. a hydrogenosome or mitosome). Among those with mitochondria, the mitochondrial cristae may be tubular, discoidal, or in some cases, laminar. Most excavates have two, four, or more flagella and many have a conspicuous ventral feeding groove with a characteristic ultrastructure, supported by microtubules. However, various groups that lack these traits may be considered excavates based on genetic evidence (primarily phylogenetic trees of molecular sequences).
The closest that the excavates come to multicellularity are the Acrasidae slime molds. Like other cellular slime molds, they live most of their life as single cells, but will sometimes assemble into a larger cluster.
Excavates are classified into six major subdivisions at the phylum/class level. These are shown in the table below. An additional organism, Malawimonas, may also be included amongst excavates, though phylogenetic evidence is equivocal.
|Superphylum||Phylum/Class||Representative genera (examples)||Description|
|Discoba or JEH||Euglenozoa||Euglena, Trypanosoma||Many important parasites, one large group with plastids (chloroplasts)|
|Heterolobosea (Percolozoa)||Naegleria, Acrasis||Most alternate between flagellate and amoeboid forms|
|Jakobea||Jakoba, Reclinomonas||Free-living, sometimes loricate flagellates, with very gene-rich mitochondrial genomes|
|Metamonada or POD||Preaxostyla||Oxymonads, Trimastix||Amitochondriate flagellates, either free-living (Trimastix) or living in the hindguts of insects|
|Fornicata||Giardia, Carpediemonas||Amitochondriate, mostly symbiotes and parasites of animals.|
|Parabasalia||Trichomonas||Amitochondriate flagellates, generally intestinal commensals of insects. Some human pathogens.|
Discoba or JEH clade
Euglenozoa and Heterolobosea (Percolozoa) appear to be particularly close relatives, and are united by the presence of discoid cristae within the mitochondria (Superphylum Discicristata). More recently a close relationship has been shown between Discicristata and Jakobida, the latter having tubular cristae like most other protists, and hence were united under the taxon name Discoba which was proposed for this apparently monophyletic group.
Excavate relationships are still uncertain; it is possible that they are not a monophyletic group. The monophyly of the excavates is far from clear, although it seems like there are several clades within the excavates which are monophyletic.
Certain excavates are often considered among the most primitive eukaryotes, based partly on their placement in many evolutionary trees. This could encourage proposals that excavates are a paraphyletic grade that includes the ancestors of other living eukaryotes. However, the placement of certain excavates as 'early branches' may be an analysis artifact caused by long branch attraction, as has been seen with some other groups, for example, microsporidia.
In addition to the groups mentioned in the table above, the genus Malawimonas is generally considered to be a member of Excavata owing to its typical excavate morphology, and phylogenetic affinity to excavate groups in some molecular phylogenies. However, its position among excavates remains elusive.
- Simpson, Ag; Inagaki, Y; Roger, Aj (Mar 2006). "Comprehensive multigene phylogenies of excavate protists reveal the evolutionary positions of "primitive" eukaryotes" (Free full text). Molecular Biology and Evolution 23 (3): 615–25. doi:10.1093/molbev/msj068. PMID 16308337.
- Hampl V, Hug L, Leigh JW et al. (March 2009). "Phylogenomic analyses support the monophyly of Excavata and resolve relationships among eukaryotic "supergroups"". Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 106 (10): 3859–64. Bibcode:2009PNAS..106.3859H. doi:10.1073/pnas.0807880106. PMC 2656170. PMID 19237557.
- Simpson AG (November 2003). "Cytoskeletal organization, phylogenetic affinities and systematics in the contentious taxon Excavata (Eukaryota)". Int. J. Syst. Evol. Microbiol. 53 (Pt 6): 1759–77. doi:10.1099/ijs.0.02578-0. PMID 14657103.
- Cavalier-Smith T (March 2002). "The phagotrophic origin of eukaryotes and phylogenetic classification of Protozoa". Int. J. Syst. Evol. Microbiol. 52 (Pt 2): 297–354. PMID 11931142.
- Naiara Rodríguez-Ezpeleta, Henner Brinkmann, Gertraud Burger, Andrew J. Roger, Michael W. Gray, Hervé Philippe, and B. Franz Lang (August 2007). "Toward Resolving the Eukaryotic Tree: The Phylogenetic Positions of Jakobids and Cercozoans". Curr. Biol. 17 (16): 1420–1425. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2007.07.036. PMID 17689961.
- Laura Wegener Parfrey, Erika Barbero, Elyse Lasser, Micah Dunthorn, Debashish Bhattacharya, David J Patterson, and Laura A Katz (December 2006). "Evaluating Support for the Current Classification of Eukaryotic Diversity". PLoS Genet. 2 (12): e220. doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.0020220. PMC 1713255. PMID 17194223.