Early evolution of microtubules and undulipodia

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A critique of both autogeneous and symbiotic hypotheses for the origin of microtubules and cilia and eukaryotic flagella (undulipodia) is presented. It is proposed that spirochetes provided the ancient eukaryotic cell with microtubules twice; cytoplasmic microtubules originated from phagocytosed spirochetes whereas axopodial tubules of undulipodia were transformed from ectosymbiotic spirochetes. A role in transport for microtubules in spirochetes together with a detailed scenario by which free-living spirochetes attached as ectosymbionts and subsequently differentiated into undulipodia is outlined. A mechanism for the continuity of motility in the form of "training" of the novel microtubular axoneme by the ancient spirochete motility apparatus is proposed. Transitional states (missing links) are unlikely to have survived. Constraints regarding the nature of the host cell are discussed. A corresponding flowchart of the early evolution of eukaryotes is presented in which plastids and mitochondria are polyphyletic in their origins.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)115-131
Number of pages17
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1987



  • Early evolution
  • Evolution of eukaryotes
  • Origins of the eukaryotic cell
  • Serial endosymbiotic theory (SET)
  • Undulipodia

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Statistics and Probability
  • Modelling and Simulation
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Applied Mathematics

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