The evolution of glycogen and starch metabolism in eukaryotes gives molecular clues to understand the establishment of plastid endosymbiosis

J Exp Bot. 2011 Mar;62(6):1775-801. doi: 10.1093/jxb/erq411. Epub 2011 Jan 10.


Solid semi-crystalline starch and hydrosoluble glycogen define two distinct physical states of the same type of storage polysaccharide. Appearance of semi-crystalline storage polysaccharides appears linked to the requirement of unicellular diazotrophic cyanobacteria to fuel nitrogenase and protect it from oxygen through respiration of vast amounts of stored carbon. Starch metabolism itself resulted from the merging of the bacterial and eukaryote pathways of storage polysaccharide metabolism after endosymbiosis of the plastid. This generated the three Archaeplastida lineages: the green algae and land plants (Chloroplastida), the red algae (Rhodophyceae), and the glaucophytes (Glaucophyta). Reconstruction of starch metabolism in the common ancestor of Archaeplastida suggests that polysaccharide synthesis was ancestrally cytosolic. In addition, the synthesis of cytosolic starch from the ADP-glucose exported from the cyanobacterial symbiont possibly defined the original metabolic flux by which the cyanobiont provided photosynthate to its host. Additional evidence supporting this scenario include the monophyletic origin of the major carbon translocators of the inner membrane of eukaryote plastids which are sisters to nucleotide-sugar transporters of the eukaryote endomembrane system. It also includes the extent of enzyme subfunctionalization that came as a consequence of the rewiring of this pathway to the chloroplasts in the green algae. Recent evidence suggests that, at the time of endosymbiosis, obligate intracellular energy parasites related to extant Chlamydia have donated important genes to the ancestral starch metabolism network.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Carbon / metabolism
  • Chloroplasts / metabolism
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Gene Duplication
  • Glycogen / metabolism*
  • Photosynthesis
  • Plants / genetics
  • Plants / metabolism*
  • Plastids / physiology*
  • Starch / metabolism*
  • Symbiosis*


  • Carbon
  • Starch
  • Glycogen