The purpose of a scientific theory is to unite apparently disparate observations into a coherent set of generalizations with predictive power. Historical theories, which necessarily treat complex irreversible events, can never be directly tested. However they certainly can lead to predictions. The 'extreme' version of the serial endosymbiotic theory argues that three classes of eukaryotic organelles had free-living ancestors: mitochondria, basal bodies/flagella/cilia [(9 + 2) homologues] and photosynthetic plastids. Many lines of evidence support this theory and can be interpreted in relation to one another on the basis of this theory. Even if this theory should eventually be proved wrong it has the real advantage of generating a large number of unique experimentally verifiable hypotheses.