Fan-shaped, naked amoebae are commonly encountered in samples from freshwater and marine habitats suggesting that they are an important component of the microbial food web. However, there are considerable problems in both detecting these amoebae and identifying them, given their morphological similarity. In this study we used restriction analysis and partial sequence analysis of the small-subunit 18S ribosomal RNA gene to examine the phylogenetic relationships between nine “fan-shaped” Vannella and Platyamoeba species. The molecular phylogeny showed that the marine Vannella and Platyamoeba isolates are closely related, whereas the freshwater isolates are disparate. Thus, the current reliance on the fine structure of the cell coat (glycocalyx) used to separate these genera is not justified. The study also highlights sequence elements that might be targeted by fluorescent probes for the direct detection of these amoebae in field samples. The molecular data were also used to aid the identification of three unknown fan-shaped isolates. All three unknowns resembled Vannella or Platyamoeba. However, one of the strains (a small < 10 μm, benthic, fan-shaped amoeba) probably represents a new genus.
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Vol. 49 • No. 6