Website Search
ID 16647

Higher cells incorporate an ancient chromosome.

Ivan Wallin presents his idea that mitochondria and chloroplasts were once free-living organisms.
I'm Ivan Wallin. In the 1920s, while using my microscope, I noticed that certain structures inside animal cells – called organelles – look a lot like bacteria cells. I proposed that these organelles were once free-living bacteria. But first let me tell you about the microscopic world of cells. Cells are classified into two groups. Lower cells, including bacteria, evolved about 3.5 billion years ago and do not have an organized nucleus (karyon). Hence, they are termed prokaryotes ("before the nucleus"). Higher cells – all plant, animal, and fungi cells – evolved from prokaryotes about 2.7 billion years ago and have a nucleus surrounded by a specialized membrane. They are called eukaryotes ("true nucleus"). Notice, they are much larger. In addition to the nucleus, eukaryotic cells have various organelles that carry out specific functions. For example, the endoplasmic reticulum and Golgi apparatus are involved in the production and export of proteins. The origin of two other organelles – mitochondria and chloroplasts – has sparked special interest because they resemble bacteria. Let's focus on the mitochondria. Mitochondria, found in all eukaryotic cells, release energy from food in a process called respiration, and store the energy in ATP molecules. ATP is then shipped from mitochondria to provide power for all of the cell's activities. Similarly, chloroplasts, found only in the cells of green plants, take energy from sunlight to make food. This process is called photosynthesis. Nineteenth century microscopists first noted the striking similarities between plant chloroplasts and single-celled algae, such as Chlorella. They proposed that a prokaryotic ancestor of plant cells had absorbed photosynthetic algae but didn't digest them. This established a symbiotic relationship; the algae produced food through photosynthesis, while the larger cell provided protection. A similar present-day symbiotic relationship can be seen in the green paramecium, which gets its green color from symbiotic Chlorella that live inside the cell. I proposed that mitochondria arose through the same sort of endosymbiosis between an ancestor of eukaryotes and a bacterium. But my claims of isolating and growing the mitochondria in the lab were later refuted, and my hypothesis was ignored. In 1967 Lynn Margulis resurrected the idea, and discoveries in the DNA world provided new evidence that both mitochondria and chloroplasts were once free-living organisms. Let's focus on mitochondria, which are found in both plant and animal cells. Like free-living organisms, mitochondria still have their own chromosomes and replicate independently within the cell. Furthermore, cells cannot produce mitochondria by themselves. If mitochondria are experimentally removed from cells, daughter cells will not contain mitochondria. The mitochondrial chromosome preserves many bacteria-like features. First, they are usually circular molecules. The human mitochondrial chromosome, only 16,549 base pairs long, is not much larger than small circular DNA in bacteria called plasmids. Second, the mitochondrial chromosome is tightly packed with genes, unlike nuclear chromosomes, which have large intergenic regions of noncoding DNA between genes. Second, the mitochondrial chromosome is tightly packed with genes, unlike nuclear chromosomes, which have large intergenic regions of noncoding DNA between genes. In human mitochondria, only one noncoding region exists. Third, most mitochondrial genes lack introns – noncoding information within nuclear genes. The human mitochondrial genome encodes only 37 genes, which are involved in the process of oxidative phosphorylation — the storage of energy in ATP. The human mitochondrial chromosome, like those of other eukaryotes, has been vastly reduced through evolutionary time. The free-living ancestor of mitochondria, perhaps similar to a Rickettsia, must have had a complement of at least 850 genes. Over time, genes for functions that could be provided by the host were lost. Also, some genes needed for respiration were transferred to the nucleus. Over millions of years of evolutionary time, this reduction resulted in the small mitochondrial chromosomes found in humans and other eukaryotes.
chloroplasts, organelles, bacteria, mitochondria, atp, golgi apparatus, symbiotic relationship, prokaryotes, eukaryotes, respiration, ivan wallin, algae, chlorella, endoplasmic reticulum, photosynthesis, paramecium, lynn margulis, plasmids, introns, oxidative phosphorylation
Creative Commons License This work by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

Related content:

16646. Concept 30: Higher cells incorporate an ancient chromosome.
Mitochondria contain a circular genome molecule, tightly packed with genes.
16089. Energy production in mitochondria
Mitochondria are the power stations of eukaryotic cells.
16648. Gallery 30: Ivan Wallin
Ivan Wallin.
16654. Biography 30: Ivan Emanuel Wallin (1883 - 1969)
Ivan Wallin was one of the first proponents of the idea that mitochrondria are derived from bacteria.
16877. Cell Signals
Journey inside a cell as you follow proteins and learn about cellular interactions. This 3-D animation brings to life the inner workings of a fibroblast cell as it responds to external signals. Created by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and Interactive Know
15179. Mitochondria from the beginning, Douglas Wallace
Molecular geneticist Douglas Wallace talks about the origin of our mitochondria and the DNA within.
1024. Pathways, Releasing the protein
In this section learn that newly made proteins leave the endoplasmic reticulum wrapped in a layer of membrane called a vesicle.
16087. Animal cell
Organelles in a typical animal cell.
16705. Animation 34: Genes can be moved between species.
Stanley Cohen and Herbert Boyer transform bacteria with a recombinant plasmid, and Doug Hanahan studies induced transformation.
1021. Pathways, To the nucleus
In this section learn that many signaling pathways ultimately pass messages to the nucleus of a cell.
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
CSHL HomeAbout CSHLResearchEducationPublic EventsNewsstandPartner With UsGiving