Molecular paleontology and complexity in the last eukaryotic common ancestor

V. Lila Koumandou, Bill Wickstead, Michael L. Ginger, Mark Van Der Giezen, Joel B. Dacks, Mark C. Field

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

98 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Eukaryogenesis, the origin of the eukaryotic cell, represents one of the fundamental evolutionary transitions in the history of life on earth. This event, which is estimated to have occurred over one billion years ago, remains rather poorly understood. While some well-validated examples of fossil microbial eukaryotes for this time frame have been described, these can provide only basic morphology and the molecular machinery present in these organisms has remained unknown. Complete and partial genomic information has begun to fill this gap, and is being used to trace proteins and cellular traits to their roots and to provide unprecedented levels of resolution of structures, metabolic pathways and capabilities of organisms at these earliest points within the eukaryotic lineage. This is essentially allowing a molecular paleontology. What has emerged from these studies is spectacular cellular complexity prior to expansion of the eukaryotic lineages. Multiple reconstructed cellular systems indicate a very sophisticated biology, which by implication arose following the initial eukaryogenesis event but prior to eukaryotic radiation and provides a challenge in terms of explaining how these early eukaryotes arose and in understanding how they lived. Here, we provide brief overviews of several cellular systems and the major emerging conclusions, together with predictions for subsequent directions in evolution leading to extant taxa. We also consider what these reconstructions suggest about the life styles and capabilities of these earliest eukaryotes and the period of evolution between the radiation of eukaryotes and the eukaryogenesis event itself.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)373-396
Number of pages24
JournalCritical Reviews in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
Volume48
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2013
Externally publishedYes

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