The name "eukaryote" is derived from Greek, meaning "true kernel", and describes the domain of organisms whose cells have a nucleus. The nucleus is thus the defining feature of eukaryotes and distinguishes them from prokaryotes (Archaea and Bacteria), whose cells lack nuclei. Despite this, we discuss the intriguing possibility that organisms on the path from the first eukaryotic common ancestor to the last common ancestor of all eukaryotes did not possess a nucleus at all-at least not in a form we would recognize today-and that the nucleus in fact arrived relatively late in the evolution of eukaryotes. The clues to this alternative evolutionary path lie, most of all, in recent discoveries concerning the structure of the nuclear pore complex. We discuss the evidence for such a possibility and how this impacts our views of eukaryote origins and how eukaryotes have diversified subsequent to their last common ancestor.
Keywords: eukaryogenesis; molecular evolution; nuclear pore complex; vesicle coats.