Eukaryotes and Multicells: Origin

Abstract

Among the most important evolutionary events of all time are the origins of eukaryotic cells and of multicellularity. Both the evolution of eukaryotes and the origins of multicellularity (convergently evolved in numerous taxa) can be studied using insights from both palaeontology and molecular biology.

Keywords: archaea; endosymbiosis; acritarchs; metazoa; algae

Figure 1.

Semidiagrammatic drawing of a generalized eukaryote cell. The connections between the endoplasmic reticulum, the organelles and the nuclear membrane would not necessarily exist permanently in a living cell; they have been included to show the topological arrangements of the organelles and membrane system. The cytoskeleton has been omitted for clarity.

Figure 2.

(a) Transmission electron micrograph of eukaryotic cells – mouse fibroblasts. Note prominent nuclei with a few nuclear pores visible; mitochondria and endoplasmic reticulum are also present. Photo reproduced courtesy of S. Runge. (b) Trichonympha, member of the Parabasalia, a very early branch of the Eukarya. Trichonympha lacks mitochondria, but has many types of bacterial symbionts, both intracellular and extracellular. It is itself a symbiont, living in the hindgut of termites. (c) Unidentified spirochaete bacteria. These are also gut symbionts of termites. (d) Glenobotrydion from the Bitter Springs Formation of Australia, approximately 850 million years old. Note inclusions that may or may not be nuclei or organelles. (e) An acritarch, Leiosphaeridia, from the late Precambrian of the St Petersburg region, Russia. Reproduced from the University of California Museum of Paleontology (UCMP) collection. (f) Grypania spiralis from the Negaunee Dolomite of Michigan, USA, 2.1 billion years old. If this is a eukaryote, it would be the oldest currently known. Reproduced from the University of Central Arkansas (UCA) collection.

Figure 3.

(a) Anabaena flos‐aquae, a filamentous cyanobacterium. Note the presence of heterocysts, cells specialized for nitrogen fixation. (b) Volvox (Chlorophyta, Volvocales). A close‐up of this large, spherical, coenocytic alga. Note the network of fine cytoplasmic connections between cells. (c) Coprinus hyphae (Fungi, Basidiomycetes). Note the ‘clamp connections’ between cells, typical of basidiomycete fungi. (d) Fruiting body of Dictyostelium. The cellular slime moulds produce stalks and spore masses by aggregation of free‐living amoebae. (e) Hydrodictyon (Chlorophyta, Chlorococcales). This net‐like structure is produced by failure of cells to separate after cytokinesis. (f) Stromatolites, the fossilized remains of cyanobacterial communities. These are approximately 600 million years old, from the lower Johnnie Formation, Nopah Range, California, USA. (g) Drawing of Proterospongia haeckelii, an extant colonial choanoflagellate with cellular differentiation. Key: a, amoeboid cell; b, dividing amoeboid cell; cy, reproductive cyst; n, nucleus. Reproduced from Bütschli O (1883–87) Klassen und Ordnungen des Thier‐Reichs. Erster Band: Protozoa. Leipzig: CF Winter. (h) ‘Carbon film’ of a possible eukaryotic algal blade. Lower Cambrian of Siberia. Reproduced from the UCMP collection. (i) Charnia, one of the ‘Ediacaran’ organisms, plausibly though not unanimously interpreted as a metazoan. Late Precambrian, White Sea coast, Russia. Reproduced from the UCMP collection. (j) Aulichnites, a trace fossil produced by an unknown metazoan. Late Precambrian, White Sea coast, Russia. Reproduced from the Paleontological Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences collection.

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Further Reading

Bengtson S (ed.) (1994) Early Life on Earth: Nobel Symposium 84. New York: Columbia University Press.

Bonner JT (1998) The origins of multicellularity. Integrative Biology 1: 27–36.

Dyer BD and Obar RA (1994) Tracing the History of Eukaryotic Cells: The Enigmatic Smile. New York: Columbia University Press.

Knoll AH (1992) The early evolution of eukaryotes: a geological perspective. Science 256: 622–627.

Margulis L, Corliss JO, Melkonian M and Chapman DJ (eds) (1990) Handbook of Protoctista. Boston: Jones and Bartlett.

Müller WEG (ed.) (1998) Molecular Evolution: Evidence for Monophyly of Metazoa. Progress in Molecular and Subcellular Biology, vol. 19. Berlin: Springer‐Verlag.

Narbonne GM (1998) The Ediacara biota: a terminal Neoproterozoic experiment in the evolution of life. GSA Today 8(2): 1–6.

Pace NR (1997) A molecular view of microbial diversity and the biosphere. Science 276: 734–740.

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Waggoner, Ben(Apr 2001) Eukaryotes and Multicells: Origin. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. http://www.els.net [doi: 10.1038/npg.els.0001640]