, Volume 54, Issue 2, pp 69-86

First online:

Origin of eukaryotic cells: 40 years on

  • John M. ArchibaldAffiliated withCanadian Institute for Advanced Research, Program in Integrated Microbial Biodiversity, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Sir Charles Tupper Medical Building, Dalhousie University Email author 

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The year 1970 saw the publication of Origin of Eukaryotic Cells by Lynn Margulis. This influential book brought the exciting and weighty problems of cellular evolution to the scientific mainstream, simultaneously breaking new ground and ‘re-discovering’ the decades-old ideas of German and Russian biologists. In this commemorative review, I discuss the 40 years that have elapsed since this landmark publication, with a focus on the ‘molecular era’: how DNA sequencing and comparative genomics have proven beyond all doubt the central tenets of the endosymbiont hypothesis for the origin of mitochondria and plastids, and, at the same time, revealed a genetic and genomic complexity in modern-day eukaryotes that could not have been imagined in decades past.


Lynn Margulis Symbiosis Endosymbiosis Cell evolution Mitochondria Plastids