Reconstructing evolution: gene transfer from plastids to the nucleus

Bioessays. 2008 Jun;30(6):556-66. doi: 10.1002/bies.20761.


During evolution, the genomes of eukaryotic cells have undergone major restructuring to meet the new regulatory challenges associated with compartmentalization of the genetic material in the nucleus and the organelles acquired by endosymbiosis (mitochondria and plastids). Restructuring involved the loss of dispensable or redundant genes and the massive translocation of genes from the ancestral organelles to the nucleus. Genomics and bioinformatic data suggest that the process of DNA transfer from organelles to the nucleus still continues, providing raw material for evolutionary tinkering in the nuclear genome. Recent reconstruction of these events in the laboratory has provided a unique tool to observe genome evolution in real time and to study the molecular mechanisms by which plastid genes are converted into functional nuclear genes. Here, we summarize current knowledge about plastid-to-nuclear gene transfer in the context of genome evolution and discuss new insights gained from experiments that recapitulate endosymbiotic gene transfer in the laboratory.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Cell Nucleus / genetics*
  • Cyanobacteria / genetics
  • DNA / genetics
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Gene Transfer Techniques
  • Gene Transfer, Horizontal
  • Genome, Bacterial
  • Genome, Plant
  • Genome, Plastid
  • Models, Genetic
  • Plants / genetics
  • Plants, Genetically Modified
  • Plastids / genetics*
  • RNA / genetics
  • Research Design
  • Symbiosis / genetics


  • RNA
  • DNA