Farming the mitochondrial ancestor as a model of endosymbiotic establishment by natural selection

István Zachar, András Szilágyi, Szabolcs Számadó, Eörs Szathmáry

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14 Citations (Scopus)


The origin of mitochondria was a major evolutionary transition leading to eukaryotes, and is a hotly debated issue. It is unknown whether mitochondria were acquired early or late, and whether it was captured via phagocytosis or syntrophic integration. We present dynamical models to directly simulate the emergence of mitochondria in an ecoevolutionary context. Our results show that regulated farming of prey bacteria and delayed digestion can facilitate the establishment of stable endosymbiosis if prey-rich and prey-poor periods alternate. Stable endosymbiosis emerges without assuming any initial metabolic benefit provided by the engulfed partner, in a wide range of parameters, despite that during good periods farming is costly. Our approach lends support to the appearance of mitochondria before any metabolic coupling has emerged, but after the evolution of primitive phagocytosis by the urkaryote.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)E1504-E1510
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Feb 13 2018


  • Ecology
  • Endosymbiosis
  • Eukaryotes
  • Evolution
  • Mitochondrial origin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General

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