Endosymbiotic theory for organelle origins

Curr Opin Microbiol. 2014 Dec:22:38-48. doi: 10.1016/j.mib.2014.09.008. Epub 2014 Oct 10.


Endosymbiotic theory goes back over 100 years. It explains the similarity of chloroplasts and mitochondria to free-living prokaryotes by suggesting that the organelles arose from prokaryotes through (endo)symbiosis. Gene trees provide important evidence in favour of symbiotic theory at a coarse-grained level, but the finer we get into the details of branches in trees containing dozens or hundreds of taxa, the more equivocal evidence for endosymbiotic events sometimes becomes. It seems that either the interpretation of some endosymbiotic events are wrong, or something is wrong with the interpretations of some gene trees having many leaves. There is a need for evidence that is independent of gene trees and that can help outline the course of symbiosis in eukaryote evolution. Protein import is the strongest evidence we have for the single origin of chloroplasts and mitochondria. It is probably also the strongest evidence we have to sort out the number and nature of secondary endosymbiotic events that have occurred in evolution involving the red plastid lineage. If we relax our interpretation of individual gene trees, endosymbiotic theory can tell us a lot.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adenosine Triphosphate / metabolism
  • Cyanobacteria / physiology
  • Eukaryotic Cells / physiology
  • Mitochondria / metabolism
  • Organelles / metabolism*
  • Prokaryotic Cells / physiology
  • Protein Transport
  • Symbiosis / physiology*


  • Adenosine Triphosphate