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Environ Microbiol Rep. 2010 Aug;2(4):500-6. doi: 10.1111/j.1758-2229.2010.00177.x. Epub 2010 May 12.

The evolution of animals and plants via symbiosis with microorganisms.

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Department, of Molecular Microbiology and Biotechnology, Tel-Aviv University, Tel-Aviv, Israel.


Animals and plants evolved from prokaryotes and have remained in close association with them. We suggest that early eukaryotic cells, formed by the fusion of two or more prokaryotes, already contained prokaryotic genetic information for aggregation and the formation of multicellular structures. The hologenome theory of evolution posits that a unit of selection in evolution is the holobiont (host plus symbionts). The hologenome is defined as the genetic information of the host and its microbiota, which function in consortium. Genetic variation of the holobiont, the raw material for evolution, can arise from changes in either the host or the symbiotic microbiota genomes. Changes in the hologenome can occur by two processes that are specific to holobionts: microbial amplification and acquisition of novel strains from the environment. Recent data from culture-independent studies provides considerable support of the hologenome theory: (i) all animals and plants contain abundant and diverse microbiota, (ii) the symbiotic microbiota affects the fitness of their host and (iii) symbiotic microorganisms are transmitted from parent to offspring. Consideration of the dynamic aspects of symbioses of hosts with their diverse microbiota leads to the conclusion that holobionts can evolve not only via Darwinian but also by adaptive Lamarckian principles.

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