Picomonas judraskeda gen. et sp. nov.: the first identified member of the Picozoa phylum nov., a widespread group of picoeukaryotes, formerly known as picobiliphytes.
In 2007, a novel, putatively photosynthetic picoeukaryotic lineage, the picobiliphytes, with no known close eukaryotic relatives, was reported from 18S environmental clone library sequences and fluorescence in situ hybridization. Although single cell genomics later showed these organisms to be heterotrophic rather than photosynthetic, until now this apparently widespread group of pico-(or nano-)eukaryotes has remained uncultured and the organisms could not be formally recognized. Here, we describe Picomonas judraskeda gen. et sp. nov., from marine coastal surface waters, which has a picobiliphyte 18S rDNA signature. Using vital mitochondrial staining and cell sorting by flow cytometry, a single cell-derived culture was established. The cells are biflagellate, 2.5-3.8×2-2.5 µm in size, lack plastids and display a novel stereotypic cycle of cell motility (described as the "jump, drag, and skedaddle"-cycle). They consist of two hemispherical parts separated by a deep cleft, an anterior part that contains all major cell organelles including the flagellar apparatus, and a posterior part housing vacuoles/vesicles and the feeding apparatus, both parts separated by a large vacuolar cisterna. From serial section analyses of cells, fixed at putative stages of the feeding cycle, it is concluded that cells are not bacterivorous, but feed on small marine colloids of less than 150 nm diameter by fluid-phase, bulk flow endocytosis. Based on the novel features of cell motility, ultrastructure and feeding, and their isolated phylogenetic position, we establish a new phylum, Picozoa, for Picomonas judraskeda, representing an apparently widespread and ecologically important group of heterotrophic picoeukaryotes, formerly known as picobiliphytes.