A common characteristic of opisthokonts is that flagellate cells, such as the sperm of most animals and the spores of the chytridfungi, propel themselves with a single posterior flagellum. It is this feature that gives the group its name. In contrast, flagellate cells in other eukaryote groups propel themselves with one or more anterior flagella. However, in some opisthokont groups, including most of the fungi, flagellate cells have been lost.
Opisthokont characteristics include synthesis of extracellular chitin in exoskeleton, cyst/spore wall, or cell wall of filamentous growth and hyphae; the extracellular digestion of substrates with osmotrophic absorption of nutrients; and other cell biosynthetic and metabolic pathways. Genera at the base of each clade are amoeboid and phagotrophic.
The close relationship between animals and fungi was suggested by Thomas Cavalier-Smith in 1987, who used the informal name opisthokonta (the formal name has been used for the chytrids by Copeland in 1956), and was supported by later genetic studies.
Cavalier-Smith and Stechmann argue that the uniciliate eukaryotes such as opisthokonts and Amoebozoa, collectively called unikonts, split off from the other biciliate eukaryotes, called bikonts, shortly after they evolved.
Opisthokonts are divided into Holomycota or Nucletmycea (fungi and all organisms more closely related to fungi than to animals) and Holozoa (animals and all organisms more closely related to animals than to fungi); no opisthokonts basal to the Holomycota/Holozoa split have yet been identified. The Opisthokonts was largely resolved by Torriella et al. Holomycota and Holozoa are composed of the following groups.
The choanoflagellates have a circular mitochondrial DNA genome with long intergenic regions. This is four times as large as animal mitochondrial genomes and contains twice as many protein coding genes.
Corallochytrium seem likely to be more closely related to the fungi than to the animals on the basis of the presence of ergosterol in their membranes and being capable of synthesis of lysine via the AAA pathway.
The ichthyosporeans have a two amino acid deletion in their EEF1A1 gene that is considered characteristic of fungi.
The ichthyosporean genome is >200 kilobase pairs in length and consists of several hundred linear chromosomes that share elaborate terminal-specific sequence patterns.
In the following phylogenetic tree it is indicated how many millions of years ago (Mya) the clades diverged into newer clades. The holomycota tree is following Tedersoo et al.
^ abCavalier-Smith, T. (1987). "The origin of fungi and pseudofungi". In Rayner, Alan D. M. (ed.) (ed.). Evolutionary biology of Fungi. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press. pp. 339–353. ISBN0-521-33050-5.CS1 maint: Extra text: editors list (link)
^Adl, S.M.; et al. (September–October 2005). "The new higher level classification of eukaryotes with emphasis on the taxonomy of protists". Journal of eukaryotic microbiology. 52: 399–451. doi:10.1111/j.1550-7408.2005.00053.x. PMID16248873.
^Huang, Jinling; Xu, Ying; Gogarten, Johann Peter (November 2005). "The presence of a haloarchaeal type tyrosyl-tRNA synthetase marks the opisthokonts as monophyletic". Molecular Biology and Evolution. 22 (11): 2142–2146. doi:10.1093/molbev/msi221. PMID16049196.
^Matthew W. Brown, Frederick W. Spiegel and Jeffrey D. Silberman (2009), "Phylogeny of the "Forgotten" Cellular Slime Mold, Fonticula alba, Reveals a Key Evolutionary Branch within Opisthokonta", Molecular Biology and Evolution, 26 (12): 2699–2709, doi:10.1093/molbev/msp185, PMID19692665