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J Mol Evol. 1998 May;46(5):499-507.

A new aspect to the origin and evolution of eukaryotes.

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Department of Genetics, Eötvös Loránd University, Múzeum krt. 4/A., Budapest, H-1088, Hungary.


One of the most important omissions in recent evolutionary theory concerns how eukaryotes could emerge and evolve. According to the currently accepted views, the first eukaryotic cell possessed a nucleus, an endomembrane system, and a cytoskeleton but had an inefficient prokaryotic-like metabolism. In contrast, one of the most ancient eukaryotes, the metamonada Giardia lamblia, was found to have formerly possessed mitochondria. In sharp contrast with the traditional views, this paper suggests, based on the energetic aspect of genome organization, that the emergence of eukaryotes was promoted by the establishment of an efficient energy-converting organelle, such as the mitochondrion. Mitochondria were acquired by the endosymbiosis of ancient alpha-purple photosynthetic Gram-negative eubacteria that reorganized the prokaryotic metabolism of the archaebacterial-like ancestral host cells. The presence of an ATP pool in the cytoplasm provided by this cell organelle allowed a major increase in genome size. This evolutionary change, the remarkable increase both in genome size and complexity, explains the origin of the eukaryotic cell itself. The loss of cell wall and the appearance of multicellularity can also be explained by the acquisition of mitochondria. All bacteria use chemiosmotic mechanisms to harness energy; therefore the periplasm bounded by the cell wall is an essential part of prokaryotic cells. Following the establishment of mitochondria, the original plasma membrane-bound metabolism of prokaryotes, as well as the funcion of the periplasm providing a compartment for the formation of different ion gradients, has been transferred into the inner mitochondrial membrane and intermembrane space. After the loss of the essential function of periplasm, the bacterial cell wall could also be lost, which enabled the naked cells to establish direct connections among themselves. The relatively late emergence of mitochondria may be the reason why multicellularity evolved so slowly.

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