Antonie van Leeuwenhoek

, Volume 100, Issue 2, pp 171-182

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

Origin of diderm (Gram-negative) bacteria: antibiotic selection pressure rather than endosymbiosis likely led to the evolution of bacterial cells with two membranes

  • Radhey S. GuptaAffiliated withDepartment of Biochemistry and Biomedical Sciences, McMaster University Email author 


The prokaryotic organisms can be divided into two main groups depending upon whether their cell envelopes contain one membrane (monoderms) or two membranes (diderms). It is important to understand how these and other variations that are observed in the cell envelopes of prokaryotic organisms have originated. In 2009, James Lake proposed that cells with two membranes (primarily Gram-negative bacteria) originated from an ancient endosymbiotic event involving an Actinobacteria and a Clostridia (Lake 2009). However, this Perspective argues that this proposal is based on a number of incorrect assumptions and the data presented in support of this model are also of questionable nature. Thus, there is no reliable evidence to support the endosymbiotic origin of double membrane bacteria. In contrast, many observations suggest that antibiotic selection pressure was an important selective force in prokaryotic evolution and that it likely played a central role in the evolution of diderm (Gram-negative) bacteria. Some bacterial phyla, such as Deinococcus-Thermus, which lack lipopolysaccharide (LPS) and yet contain some characteristics of the diderm bacteria, are postulated as evolutionary intermediates (simple diderms) in the transition between the monoderm bacterial taxa and the bacterial groups that have the archetypal LPS-containing outer cell membrane found in Gram-negative bacteria. It is possible to distinguish the two stages in the evolution of diderm-LPS cells (viz. monoderm bacteria → simple diderms lacking LPS → LPS containing archetypal diderm bacteria) by means of conserved inserts in the Hsp70 and Hsp60 proteins. The insert in the Hsp60 protein also distinguishes the traditional Gram-negative diderm bacterial phyla from atypical taxa of diderm bacteria (viz. Negativicutes, Fusobacteria, Synergistetes and Elusimicrobia). The Gram-negative bacterial phyla with an LPS-diderm cell envelope, as defined by the presence of the Hsp60 insert, are indicated to form a monophyletic clade and no loss of the outer membrane from any species from this group seems to have occurred. This argues against the origin of monoderm prokaryotes from diderm bacteria by loss of outer membrane.


Bacterial cell envelopes Origin of the outer cell membrane Gram-negative bacteria Lipopolysaccharides Monoderm and diderm bacteria Endosymbiotic hypothesis Antibiotic selection pressure Conserved inserts in Hsp60 and Hsp70 proteins Simple monoderms