Evolving Perspective on the Origin and Diversification of Cellular Life and the Virosphere

Genome Biol Evol. 2022 May 31;14(6):evac034. doi: 10.1093/gbe/evac034.


The tree of life (TOL) is a powerful framework to depict the evolutionary history of cellular organisms through time, from our microbial origins to the diversification of multicellular eukaryotes that shape the visible biosphere today. During the past decades, our perception of the TOL has fundamentally changed, in part, due to profound methodological advances, which allowed a more objective approach to studying organismal and viral diversity and led to the discovery of major new branches in the TOL as well as viral lineages. Phylogenetic and comparative genomics analyses of these data have, among others, revolutionized our understanding of the deep roots and diversity of microbial life, the origin of the eukaryotic cell, eukaryotic diversity, as well as the origin, and diversification of viruses. In this review, we provide an overview of some of the recent discoveries on the evolutionary history of cellular organisms and their viruses and discuss a variety of complementary techniques that we consider crucial for making further progress in our understanding of the TOL and its interconnection with the virosphere.

Keywords: archaea; bacteria and eukaryotes; diversity and evolution; eukaryogenesis; methodological progress; tree of life; viruses.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Archaea*
  • Biological Evolution
  • Eukaryota
  • Phylogeny
  • Viruses* / genetics