Mitochondrial Genome Evolution


Mitochondria are membrane‐enclosed organelles present in most eukaryotic cells that generate most of the cell's adenosine triphosphate (ATP) supply. Derived from a proteobacterial ancestor, mitochondria harbour their own, drastically reduced genome. Starting from a prokaryote‐like ancestral state encoding a complete ribosomal ribonucleic acid (rRNA) operon, a complete set of transfer RNAs (tRNAs) required for translation, and key enzymes of the respiratory chain as well as some ribosomal proteins, the mitogenome has been dramatically restructured and further reduced in many of the eukaryotic lineages. The loss and transfer to the nucleus of mitochondrial genes is a common trend in most phyla, in particular in Metazoa and Alveolata. In extreme, phylogenetically dispersed cases, often associated with parasitic or anaerobic life styles, mitochondria have been transformed to the so‐called mitosomes or hydrogenosomes devoid of their own genetic material. Ancestrally a single circular deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), mitogenomes have evolved to complex, fragmented architectures in particular in Euglenozoa.

Key Concepts:

  • Mitochondria have an endosymbiotic origin deriving from a proteobacterial ancestor.

  • Various evolutionary mechanisms operate on mitochondrial genomes.

  • Mitochondrial genomes have developed very diverse properties during eukaryote evolution.

  • Mitogenomic gene content declines in most eukaryotic lineages by horizontal transfer to the nuclear genome.

  • Complex idiosyncratic genome organisations have independently evolved in several eukaryotic phyla.

Keywords: evolution; eukaryote; genome rearrangements; horizontal gene transfer; introns; mitochondria; respiratory chain; rRNA; tRNA

Figure 2.

Eucaryotic tree with marked ‘events’ and a selection of peculiarities of extant taxa. The number of mitogenomes contained in RefSeq 59 is given next to the taxa, where red numbers highlight taxa not present in the database. Red taxon names indicate unstudied taxa. The count for Jakobida also includes the mitogenome of Malawimonas jakobiformis and Ministeria vibrans is considered as Choanozoa.

Figure 1.

Basic properties of mitogenomes. (a) histogram of the length, (b) histogram of the AT content and (c) scatter plot showing the AT and GC skew. Data were computed for the mitogenomes contained in RefSeq 59.



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Further Reading

Bernt M, Braband A, Middendorf M et al. (2013) Bioinformatics methods for the comparative analysis of metazoan mitochondrial genome sequences. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 69(2): 320–327.

Bernt M, Braband A, Schierwater B and Stadler PF (2013) Genetic aspects of mitochondrial genome evolution. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 69(2): 328–338.

Bock R and Knoop V (eds) (2012) Genomics of Chloroplasts and Mitochondria. Advances in Photosynthesis and Respiration, vol. 35. The Netherlands: Springer.

Bullerwell CE (ed.) (2012) Organelle Genetics. Berlin, Heidelberg: Springer.

Knight RD, Freeland SJ and Landweber LF (2001) Rewiring the keyboard: evolvability of the genetic code. Nature Reviews Genetics 2: 49–58.

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Bernt, Matthias, Machné, Rainer, Sahyoun, Abdullah H, Middendorf, Martin, and Stadler, Peter F(Sep 2013) Mitochondrial Genome Evolution. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0025142]