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Molecular organisms

John Archibald, One Plus One Equals One: Symbiosis and the Origin of Complex Life. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014

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Protistology, and evolutionary protistology in particular, is experiencing a golden research era. It is an extended one that can be dated back to the 1970s, which is when the molecular rebirth of microbial phylogeny began in earnest. John Archibald, a professor of evolutionary microbiology at Dalhousie University (Nova Scotia, Canada), focuses on the beautiful story of endosymbiosis in his book, John Archibald, One Plus One Equals One: Symbiosis and the Origin of Complex Life (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014). However, this historical narrative could be treated as synecdochal of how the molecular revolution has changed evolutionary biology forever, and that is how Archibald has structured his book. I will address the encompassing theme of molecular methods in detail, but also pay careful attention to the endosymbiosis thread in its own right.

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Fig. 1


  1. 1.

    All images from Wikimedia Commons: (1) Rhizobia nodules by Dave Whitaker; (2) Life cycle of retrovirus by Mrdavis21; (3) Wolbachia in insect cell by Scott O’Neill; (4) Buchnera in pea aphid bacteriocyte by J. White and N. Moran; (5a) Mitochondrion by Nevit; (5b) Chloroplasts in Mnium stellare by Thomas Geier.

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    The peroxisome may possibly owe its existence to the mitochondrion (Bolte et al. 2014) but not to a new incoming endosymbiont.

  3. 3.

    I have seen philosophical publications with all three of these organelles asserted as endosymbiotic in origin, but there is no need to name those papers here. Seeing Margulis as the main source of information for the endosymbiosis of organelles may be the cause of such excesses—simply because of her exuberance in asserting symbioses as the most important and ubiquitous evolutionary cause.


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Many thanks to Peter Godfrey-Smith and Susan Spath for comments on an earlier draft.

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Correspondence to Maureen A. O’Malley.

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O’Malley, M.A. Molecular organisms. Biol Philos 31, 571–589 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10539-015-9482-2

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  • Endosymbiosis
  • Eukaryote evolution
  • Molecular evolution
  • Organelle evolution