Resistance of Symbiotic Eukaryotes

Survival to Simulated Space Conditions and Asteroid Impact Cataclysms
  • Jean-Pierre Paul De Vera
  • Sieglinde Ott
Part of the Cellular Origin, Life in Extreme Habitats and Astrobiology book series (COLE, volume 17)


Carbon isotope data suggest that microbial life was present on Earth as early as 3.5 Ga ago, and probably even 4 Ga ago, and indicates that biological CO2 fixation was an early feature (Schidlowski, 2001). The early biosphere was dominated by microbial life forms for a long period, during which they evolved to exploit new niches. For some, this involved interaction between different microbial groups, and now symbiosis represents one of the most successful strategies in evolution (Margulis, 1993). There is now little doubt that eukaryotes arose through uptake of a heterotrophic eubacterial symbiont by an autotrophic archaebacterial host (Martin and Russell, 2003). This milestone in evolution, and the paradigm of the endosymbiont hypothesis, initiated the evolution of the eukaryotic kingdoms of fungi, plants, and animals. Evidence from dating sequence divergence (Wang et al., 1999) suggests that the ancestors of today’s plants, animals, and fungi diverged possibly as early as 1.5 Ga ago. Independent of this major evolutionary step, other symbioses arose as exosymbiosis, without the ingestion of one partner. These involve both syntrophic partnerships among prokaryotes, and also associations with or among eukaryotes. Such symbioses are particularly complex in biofilms and biocrusts (Belnap et al., 2001; Flemming and Wingender, 2001), and in associations that are often found in stressful terrestrial habitats that are not amenable to higher plant community development, for instance, due to periodic aridity. In such habitats, lichen symbioses can form the dominant and conspicuous biological elements of the landscape. Lichens can be characterized as a specific exosymbiotic life form that results in an exposed and integrated phenotype of clearly different morphology than that of the constituent organisms alone (Lawrey, 1991; Ahmadjian et al., 1987; Galun, 1988 Grube and Hawksworth 2007). Taylor et al. (1997, 2005) and Yuan et al. (2005) date the first occurrence of the lichen symbiosis from fossil records in the Lower Devonian period (0.6 Ga), but the evolution of the lichen symbiosis could well pre-date the available fossil records (Lutzoni 2001).


Lichen Species Biological Soil Crust Lichen Thallus Asteroid Impact Lichen Symbiosis 
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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt e.V. (DLR) in der Helmholtz -Gemeinschaft, Institut für PlanetenforschungBerlinGermany
  2. 2.Institute of Botany, Universitätsstr. 1 (Geb.26.13.02)Heinrich-Heine-UniversityDüsseldorfGermany

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