A University of Manchester scientist is part of a team which has carried out one of the biggest ever analyses of genomes on life of all forms.
This has allowed them to map the evolutionary history of eukaryotic genes in unprecedented detail – giving insight into the mechanisms of evolution in the very earliest forms of life.
The team, including the Faculty of Life Sciences’ Professor James McInerney, wanted to look at the different ways in which eukaryotic and prokaryotic life evolved to see if there were any clues to how evolution could do these great leaps forward.
Traditional models had shown that lateral gene transfer happened in prokaryotes and thus helped explain the enormous diversity they have compared to eukaryotes.
“The big surprise of the study was that eukaryotes, don’t engage in this kind of continuous gene swapping nearly as much – though when they do, it’s a really, really important event and in early evolution, it corresponded to the origin of organelles. These events were huge evolutionary leaps.”
Research has shown that both mitochondria and chloroplasts evolved from two cells coming together to share genes and form a ‘hybrid’ organism.
The team’s research has therefore shown that these evolutionary great leaps forward can take place when prokaryotes and eukaryotes mix their genes together in an endosymbiotic event.