Photosymbioses, intimate interactions between photosynthetic algal symbionts and heterotrophic hosts, are well known in invertebrate and protist systems. Vertebrate animals are an exception where photosynthetic microorganisms are not often considered part of the normal vertebrate microbiome, with a few exceptions in amphibian eggs. Here, we review the breadth of vertebrate diversity and explore where algae have taken hold in vertebrate fur, on vertebrate surfaces, in vertebrate tissues, and within vertebrate cells. We find that algae have myriad partnerships with vertebrate animals, from fishes to mammals, and that those symbioses range from apparent mutualisms to commensalisms to parasitisms. The exception in vertebrates, compared with other groups of eukaryotes, is that intracellular mutualisms and commensalisms with algae or other microbes are notably rare. We currently have no clear cell-in-cell (endosymbiotic) examples of a trophic mutualism in any vertebrate, while there is a broad diversity of such interactions in invertebrate animals and protists. This functional divergence in vertebrate symbioses may be related to vertebrate physiology or a byproduct of our adaptive immune system. Overall, we see that diverse algae are part of the vertebrate microbiome, broadly, with numerous symbiotic interactions occurring across all vertebrate and many algal clades. These interactions are being studied for their ecological, organismal, and cellular implications. This synthesis of vertebrate-algal associations may prove useful for the development of novel therapeutics: pairing algae with medical devices, tissue cultures, and artificial ecto- and endosymbioses.
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