Sure facts and open questions about the origin and evolution of photosynthetic plastids

Res Microbiol. 2001 Nov;152(9):771-80. doi: 10.1016/s0923-2508(01)01260-8.


Some eukaryotic groups carry out photosynthesis thanks to plastids, which are endosymbiotic organelles derived from cyanobacteria. Increasing evidence suggests that the plastids from green plants, red algae, and glaucophytes arose directly from a single common primary symbiotic event between a cyanobacterium and a phagotrophic eukaryotic host. They are therefore known as primary plastids. All other lineages of photosynthetic eukaryotes seem to have acquired their plastids by secondary or tertiary endosymbioses, which are established between eukaryotic algae, already containing plastids, and other eukaryotic hosts. Both primary and secondary symbioses have been followed by extensive plastid genome reduction through gene loss and gene transfer to the host nucleus. All this makes the reconstruction of the evolutionary history of plastids a very complex task, indissoluble from the resolution of the general phylogeny of eukaryotes.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biological Evolution*
  • Cyanobacteria
  • Eukaryota
  • Photosynthesis*
  • Phylogeny
  • Plants
  • Plastids* / genetics
  • Plastids* / physiology