Taming a cyanobacterium in a pivitol event of endosymbiosis brought photosynthesis to eukaryotes, and gave rise to the plastids found in glaucophytes, red and green algae, and the descendants of the latter, the plants. Ultrastructural as well as molecular research over the last two decades has demonstrated that plastids have enjoyed surprising lateral mobility across the tree of life. Numerous independent secondary and tertiary endosymbiosis have led to a spread of plastids into a variety of, up to that point, non-photosynthetic lineages. Happily eating and subsequently domesticating one another protists conquered a wide variety of ecological niches. The elaborate evolution of secondary, or complex, plastids is reflected in the numerous membranes that bound them (three or four compared to the two membranes of the primary plastids). Gene transfer to the host nucleus is a hallmark of endosymbiosis and provides centralized cellular control. Here we review how these proteins find their way back into the stroma of the organelle and describe the advances in the understanding of the molecular mechanisms that allow protein translocation across four membranes. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled: Protein Import and Quality Control in Mitochondria and Plastids.
Published by Elsevier B.V.