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Endosymbiosis occurs when a symbiont lives inside the body or the cells of another organism. It is a very widespread phenomenon in living things.[1]

Examples are:

Endosymbiont theory[change | change source]

Endosymbiont theory is the idea that eukaryote cells arose in evolution by the fusion of previously free-living protists (prokaryotes).[2]p143 The theory was first suggested by the Russian botanist Mereshkovsky in 1905.[3] The nature of lichens had been worked out;[4] mitochondria and chloroplasts had been seen in cells,[5] and their similarity to bacteria noted.[6] The theory was initially dismissed, but was re-examined when more was known about cell biology.[7]

The eukaryote cell is the type of cell all animals and plants are made of. Some cell organelles, such as mitochondria and chloroplasts, contain DNA. In each case, this DNA is thought to be the remnant of the genome of a once independent bacterium. The theory is that the eukaryote cell evolved by the fusion of several bacteria or archaean organisms. Together, the new cells survived, prospered and evolved into new and complex forms of life.[8][9][10][11] The origin of other organelles in the eukaryotic cell is still under review: the cell nucleus, its membrane, chromosomes and centromeres; the Golgi body; the flagella or cilia; the intracellular membranes. Some of these may also have had a symbiotic origin.[12]


  • Mitochondria live inside the cells of all animals, plants, and fungi. They make a fuel for the cells called ATP; it is the most common fuel in the body. Mitochondria were once bacteria, but now they cannot live outside animal cells.
  • Kelp and other brown algae are different from other endosymbiotic associations. A brown algae cell fused with the cell of a green algae, which already had an endosymbiont. This is called secondary endosymbiosis.

Endosymbiosis in prokaryotes[change | change source]

There is evidence that symbiosis happened between ancient bacteria to produce the double-membrane class known as gram-negative bacteria.[13] Since the gram-negative bacteria include the cyanobacteria, this was the first of several such events in the history of the eukaryotes.

References[change | change source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 Buchner P. 1965. Endosymbioses of animals with plant microorganisms. Wiley N.Y.
  2. King R.C. Stansfield W.D. & Mulligan P.K. 2006. A dictionary of genetics, 7th ed. Oxford.
  3. Mereshkovsky C 1905. Über Natur und Ursprung der Chromatophoren im Pflanzenreiche. Biol Centralbl 25: 593–604.
  4. de Bary, Antoine 1879. Die Erscheinung der Symbiose. Strassburg.
  5. Schimper A.F.W. 1883. Über die Entwicklung der Chlorophyllkörner und Farbkörper. Bot. Zeitung 41: 105–14, 121–31, 137–46, 153–62.
  6. Wallin I.E. 1927. Symbionticism and the origin of species. Williams & Wilkins, Baltimore.
  7. Lederberg J. 1952. Cell genetics and hereditary symbiosis. Physiological Reviews 32, 403–430.
  8. Margulis, Lynn 1998. The symbiotic planet: a new look at evolution. Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London. Margulis believes symbiosis is the most important force in evolution.
  9. Sapp J. 1994. Evolution by association: a history of symbiosis. Oxford. A balanced overview.
  10. Khakhina L.N. 1992. Concepts of symbiogenesis: a historical and critical survey of the research of Russian botanists. Yale, New Haven CN.
  11. Lake, James A. Evidence for an early prokaryote symbiogenesis. Nature 460 967–971.
  12. Dyer, Betsy Dexter and Obar, Robert Alan 1994. Tracing the history of eukaryotic cells: the enigmatic smile. Columbia N.Y.
  13. Lake, James A. 2009. Evidence for an early prokaryotic endosymbiosis. Nature 460: p967.