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Complex cells likely arose from combination of bacterial and extreme-microbe genomes

e said to be related if they shared certain, mostly physical, characteristics. DNA technology now allows much closer scrutiny of hereditary molecules, which provides a more accurate and detailed picture of the genetic relationships between and among living things.

"New computational tools and comparative analyses will undoubtedly find instances in which the evolutionary record will need to be set straight," said James Rodman, a program officer in NSF directorate for biology, which funded the research. "This new fellowship among microbiologists, evolutionists, and computationalists will provide a much fuller picture of the relatedness of living things."

Lake and Rivera analyzed and compared the genomes of 30 microorganisms selected from the three categories (eukaryotes, bacteria and Archaea). All of the microbes contained about the same number of genes. The researchers then used the computer to produce genome combinations that reflected the most likely ancestors of modern eukaryotes. Their analysis, they say, showed that two ancient prokaryotes--one most similar to a bacterium, and one an Archaea--combined genomes out of a mutually advantageous need to survive.

That theory, known as endosymbiosis, has been a popular explanation of how eukaryotic cells acquired smaller components to carry out cellular processes. According to the report, modern eukaryotes obtained genes required to operate the cell from the bacterial side of the family, and the information-carrying genes from the Archaea side.

Further, the authors say, the work also sheds light on the "horizontal" transfer of genes--sideways from organism to organism, rather than from parent to offspring.


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Contact: Leslie Fink
lfink@nsf.gov
703-292-5395
National Science Foundation
8-Sep-2004


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