Biology » Protists » Eukaryotic Origins

Summarizing Eukaryotic Origins

Summary

The oldest fossil evidence of eukaryotes is about 2 billion years old. Fossils older than this all appear to be prokaryotes. It is probable that today’s eukaryotes are descended from an ancestor that had a prokaryotic organization. The last common ancestor of today’s Eukarya had several characteristics, including cells with nuclei that divided mitotically and contained linear chromosomes where the DNA was associated with histones, a cytoskeleton and endomembrane system, and the ability to make cilia/flagella during at least part of its life cycle.

It was aerobic because it had mitochondria that were the result of an aerobic alpha-proteobacterium that lived inside a host cell. Whether this host had a nucleus at the time of the initial symbiosis remains unknown. The last common ancestor may have had a cell wall for at least part of its life cycle, but more data are needed to confirm this hypothesis. Today’s eukaryotes are very diverse in their shapes, organization, life cycles, and number of cells per individual.

Glossary

endosymbiosis

engulfment of one cell within another such that the engulfed cell survives, and both cells benefit; the process responsible for the evolution of mitochondria and chloroplasts in eukaryotes

endosymbiotic theory

theory that states that eukaryotes may have been a product of one cell engulfing another, one living within another, and evolving over time until the separate cells were no longer recognizable as such

plastid

one of a group of related organelles in plant cells that are involved in the storage of starches, fats, proteins, and pigments

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