In a new study, published in Nature this week, a research team led from Uppsala University in Sweden presents the discovery of a new microbe that represents a missing link in the evolution of complex life. The study provides a new understanding of how, billions of years ago, the complex cell types that comprise plants, fungi, but also animals and humans, evolved from simple microbes.
Cells are the basic building blocks of all life on our planet. Yet, whereas the cells of bacteria and other microbes are small and simple, all visible life, including us humans, is generally made up of large and complex cell types. The origin of these complex cell types has long been a mystery to the scientific community, but now researchers from Uppsala University in Sweden have discovered a new group of microorganisms that represents a missing link in the evolutionary transition from simple to complex cells.
In the 1970s, the acclaimed biologist Carl Woese discovered a completely new group of microorganisms, the Archaea, and showed that these represented a separate branch in the Tree of Life—a finding that stunned the scientific community at the time. Despite that archaeal cells were simple and small like bacteria, researchers found that Archaea were more closely related to organisms with complex cell types, a group collectively known as ‘eukaryotes’. This observation has puzzled scientists for decades: How could the complex cell types from eukaryotes have emerged from the simple cells of Archaea?
In this weeks’ edition of Nature, researchers from Uppsala University in Sweden, along with collaborators from the universities in Bergen (Norway) and Vienna (Austria) report the discovery of a new group of Archaea, the Lokiarchaeota (or ‘Loki’ for short), and identify it to be a missing link in the origin of eukaryotes. “The puzzle of the origin of the eukaryotic cell is extremely complicated, as many pieces are still missing. We hoped that Loki would reveal a few more pieces of the puzzle, but when we obtained the first results, we couldn’t believe our eyes. The data simply looked spectacular”, says Thijs Ettema at the Department of Cell and Molecular Biology, Uppsala University, who lead the scientific team that carried out the study. “By studying its genome, we found that Loki represents an intermediate form in-between the simple cells of microbes, and the complex cell types of eukaryotes”, says Thijs Ettema. When Loki was placed in the Tree of Life, this idea was confirmed. Source: Missing link in the evolution of complex cells discovered