Biology & Philosophy

, Volume 28, Issue 2, pp 299-330

First online:

The other eukaryotes in light of evolutionary protistology

  • Maureen A. O’MalleyAffiliated withDepartment of Philosophy, University of Sydney Email author 
  • , Alastair G. B. SimpsonAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, Life Sciences Centre, Dalhousie University
  • , Andrew J. RogerAffiliated withDepartment of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Tupper Building, Dalhousie University

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In order to introduce protists to philosophers, we outline the diversity, classification, and evolutionary importance of these eukaryotic microorganisms. We argue that an evolutionary understanding of protists is crucial for understanding eukaryotes in general. More specifically, evolutionary protistology shows how the emphasis on understanding evolutionary phenomena through a phylogeny-based comparative approach constrains and underpins any more abstract account of why certain organismal features evolved in the early history of eukaryotes. We focus on three crucial episodes of this history: the origins of multicellularity, the origin of sex, and the origin of the eukaryote cell. Despite ongoing uncertainty about where the root of the eukaryote tree lies, and residual questions about the precise endosymbioses that have produced a diversity of photosynthesizing eukaryotes, evolutionary protistology has illuminated with considerable clarity many aspects of protist evolution. Our main message in light of evolutionary protistology is that these ‘other eukaryotes’ are in fact the organisms through which the rest of the eukaryotes should be understood.


Protists Eukaryote tree of life Phylogeny-based comparison Origin of sex Origins of multicellularity Origin of eukaryotes