The Myxogastria are common soil microorganisms with a life cycle comprised of a plasmodial trophic stage and large fruiting bodies generally visible with the unaided eye. Until now, their classification has been based exclusively on a combination of morphological, ultrastructural, and developmental characters. Our study is the first attempt to examine phylogenetic relationships among these taxa using molecular data. Partial small-subunit ribosomal RNA and/or elongation factor 1-alpha gene sequences were obtained from eleven, mostly field-collected species representing the five orders of Myxogastria. Nineteen sequences were obtained and subjected to phylogenetic analysis together with 10 sequences available from GenBank. Separate and combined analyses of the two data sets support the division of Myxogastria into three distinct groups. The most basal clade consists of the Echinosteliales, an order considered to have affinities with Protostelia. The three species examined possess unpigmented or slightly pigmented spores. The second group consists of Liceales and Trichiales, taxa characterized by the presence of clear, but pigmented, spores. The third group consists of the two remaining orders, Physarales and Stemonitales, both possessing dark spores. This suggests that spore pigmentation is an evolutionarily conservative character in myxogastrians, and that the simple morphology of echinostelids is not a derived feature.
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