Plant Cell Monographs Volume 13, 2009, pp 1-39

Diversity and Evolution of Plastids and Their Genomes

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Plastids, the light-harvesting organelles of plants and algae, are the descendants of cyanobacterial endosymbionts that became permanent fixtures inside nonphotosynthetic eukaryotic host cells. This chapter provides an overview of the structural, functional and molecular diversity of plastids in the context of current views on the evolutionary relationships among the eukaryotic hosts in which they reside. Green algae, land plants, red algae and glaucophyte algae harbor double-membrane-bound plastids whose ancestry is generally believed to trace directly to the original cyanobacterial endosymbiont. In contrast, the plastids of many other algae, such as dinoflagellates, diatoms and euglenids, are usually bound by more than two membranes, suggesting that these were acquired indirectly via endosymbiotic mergers between nonphotosynthetic eukaryotic hosts and eukaryotic algal endosymbionts. An increasing amount of genomic data from diverse photosynthetic taxa has made it possible to test specific hypotheses about the evolution of photosynthesis in eukaryotes and, consequently, improve our understanding of the genomic and biochemical diversity of modern-day eukaryotic phototrophs.