Supertrees disentangle the chimerical origin of eukaryotic genomes


Eukaryotes are traditionally considered to be one of the three natural divisions of the tree of life and the sister group of the Archaebacteria. However, eukaryotic genomes are replete with genes of eubacterial ancestry, and more than 20 mutually incompatible hypotheses have been proposed to account for eukaryote origins. Here we test the predictions of these hypotheses using a novel supertree-based phylogenetic signal-stripping method, and recover supertrees of life based on phylogenies for up to 5,741 single gene families distributed across 185 genomes. Using our signal-stripping method, we show that there are three distinct phylogenetic signals in eukaryotic genomes. In order of strength, these link eukaryotes with the Cyanobacteria, the Proteobacteria, and the Thermoplasmatales, an archaebacterial (euryarchaeotes) group. These signals correspond to distinct symbiotic partners involved in eukaryote evolution: plastids, mitochondria, and the elusive host lineage. According to our whole-genome data, eukaryotes are hardly the sister group of the Archaebacteria, because up to 83% of eukaryotic genes with a prokaryotic homolog have eubacterial, not archaebacterial, origins. The results reject all but two of the current hypotheses for the origin of eukaryotes: those assuming a sulfur-dependent or hydrogen-dependent syntrophy for the origin of mitochondria.

In Molecular Biology and Evolution 24:1752–1760
James Cotton
James Cotton
Senior Staff Scientist

My research interests are in the genomics, and particularly population genomics of parasites, particularly those that cause neglected tropical diseases