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Am Nat. 1999 Oct;154(S4):S164-S177.

Tracing the Thread of Plastid Diversity through the Tapestry of Life.


Plastids (chloroplasts) are endosymbiotic organelles derived from previously free-living cyanobacteria. They are dependent on their host cell to the degree that the majority of the proteins expressed in the plastid are encoded in the nuclear genome of the host cell, and it is this genetic dependency that distinguishes organelles from obligate endosymbionts. Reduction in the size of the plastid genome has occurred via gene loss, substitution of nuclear genes, and gene transfer. The plastids of Chlorophyta and plants, Rhodophyta, and Glaucocystophyta are primary plastids (i.e., derived directly from a cyanobacterium). These three lineages may or may not be descended from a single endosymbiotic event. All other lineages of plastids have acquired their plastids by secondary (or tertiary) endosymbiosis, in which a eukaryote already equipped with plastids is preyed upon by a second eukaryote. Considerable gene transfer has occurred among genomes and, at times, between organisms. The eukaryotic crown group Alveolata has a particularly complex history of plastid acquisition.


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