Theory in Biosciences

, Volume 127, Issue 3, pp 277–289 | Cite as

Macroevolution via secondary endosymbiosis: a Neo-Goldschmidtian view of unicellular hopeful monsters and Darwin’s primordial intermediate form

  • U. KutscheraEmail author
  • K. J. Niklas
Original Paper


Seventy-five years ago, the geneticist Richard Goldschmidt hypothesized that single mutations affecting development could result in major phenotypic changes in a single generation to produce unique organisms within animal populations that he called “hopeful monsters”. Three decades ago, Sarah P. Gibbs proposed that photosynthetic unicellular micro-organisms like euglenoids and dinoflagellates are the products of a process now called “secondary endosymbiosis” (i.e., the evolution of a chloroplast surrounded by three or four membranes resulting from the incorporation of a eukaryotic alga by a eukaryotic heterotrophic host cell). In this article, we explore the evidence for Goldschmidt’s “hopeful monster” concept and expand the scope of this theory to include the macroevolutionary emergence of organisms like Euglena and Chlorarachnion from secondary endosymbiotic events. We argue that a Neo-Goldschmidtian perspective leads to the conclusion that cell chimeras such as euglenids and dinoflagellates, which are important groups of phytoplankton in freshwater and marine ecosystems, should be interpreted as “successful monsters”. In addition, we argue that Charles Darwin had euglenoids (infusoria) in mind when he speculated on the “primordial intermediate form”, although his Proto-Euglena-hypothesis for the origin of the last common ancestor of all forms of life is no longer acceptable.


Darwin Endosymbiosis Hopeful monster theory Macroevolution 



This article is dedicated to Prof. Sarah P. Gibbs, who discovered the principle of secondary endosymbiosis 30 years ago. The cooperation of the authors is supported by the Alexander von Humboldt-Stiftung (AvH), Bonn (Germany).


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of BiologyUniversity of KasselKasselGermany
  2. 2.Department of Plant BiologyCornell UniversityIthacaUSA

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