Metabolic symbiosis at the origin of eukaryotes

Trends Biochem Sci. 1999 Mar;24(3):88-93. doi: 10.1016/s0968-0004(98)01342-5.


Thirty years after Margulis revived the endosymbiosis theory for the origin of mitochondria and chloroplasts, two novel symbiosis hypotheses for the origin of eukaryotes have been put forward. Both propose that eukaryotes arose through metabolic symbiosis (syntrophy) between eubacteria and methanogenic Archaea. They also propose that this was mediated by interspecies hydrogen transfer and that, initially, mitochondria were anaerobic. These hypotheses explain the mosaic character of eukaryotes (i.e. an archaeal-like genetic machinery and a eubacterial-like metabolism), as well as distinct eukaryotic characteristics (which are proposed to be products of symbiosis). Combined data from comparative genomics, microbial ecology and the fossil record should help to test their validity.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Archaea / genetics
  • Archaea / metabolism
  • Bacteria / genetics
  • Bacteria / metabolism
  • Biological Evolution
  • Eukaryotic Cells
  • Hydrogen / metabolism
  • Mitochondria / metabolism
  • Models, Biological*
  • Symbiosis / physiology*


  • Hydrogen