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Biosci Rep. 2001 Feb;21(1):1-17.

Rickettsiaceae, rickettsia-like endosymbionts, and the origin of mitochondria.

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  • 1Gamaleya Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology, Moscow, Russia.


Accumulating evolutionary data point to a monophyletic origin of mitochondria from the order Rickettsiales. This large group of obligate intracellular alpha-Proteobacteria includes the family Rickettsiaceae and several rickettsia-like endosymbionts (RLEs). Detailed phylogenetic analysis of small subunit (SSU) rRNA and chaperonin 60 (Cpn60) sequences testify to polyphyly of the Rickettsiales, and consistently indicate a sisterhood of Rickettsiaceae and mitochondria that excludes RLEs. Thus RLEs are considered as the nearest extant relatives of an extinct last common ancestor of mitochondria and rickettsiae. Phylogenetic inferences prompt the following assumptions. (1) Mitochondrial origin has been predisposed by the long-term endosymbiotic relationship between rickettsia-like bacteria and proto-eukaryotes, in which many endosymbiont genes have been lost while some indispensable genes have been transferred to the host genome. (2) The obligate dependence of rickettsiae upon a eukaryotic host rests on the import of proteins encoded by these transferred genes. The nature of a proto-eukaryotic cell still remains elusive. The divergence of Rickettsiaceae and mitochondria based on Cpn60, and the evolutionary history of two aminoacyl-tRNA synthetases favor the hypothesis that it was a chimera created by fusion of an archaebacterium and a eubacterium not long before an endosymbiotic event. These and other, mostly biochemical data suggest that all the mitochondrion-related organelles, i.e., both aerobically and anaerobically respiring mitochondria and hydrogenosomes, have originated from the same RLE, while hydrogenosomal energy metabolism may have a separate origin resulting from a eubacterial fusion partner.

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