The Chloroplast and Photosynthetic Eukaryotes

  • Roberto Ligrone


The chloroplast primarily evolved in the unicellular ancestor of Archaeplastida (Plants) from a cyanobacterial endosymbiont around 900 MYA. A secondary chloroplast independently evolved in the Chlorarachniophytes (Rhizaria) and Euglenophytes (Excavata) from two different green algal endosymbionts, and in the “chromoalveolate” lineage from a red algal endosymbiont. It is debated whether the chromoalveolate chloroplast was transmitted vertically across the Cryptophytes, Haptophytes, Chromista and Alveolata as the chromoalveolate hypothesis maintains, or by serial symbiosis. Chloroplast evolution involved massive gene transfer from the cyanobacterial endosymbiont to the host nucleus; a minor part of the original genome remained in the chloroplast and was never completely lost. Protein translocation from the host cytosol to different sites of the chloroplast depends on multiple translocation mechanisms derived in part from the host, in part of cyanobacterial ancestry. The evolution of secondary chloroplasts involved the transfer of genes for chloroplast maintenance from the nucleus of the primary host to that of the secondary host; mechanisms derived from the secondary-host endomembrane system mediate protein translocation across extra envelope membranes of secondary chloroplasts. Chloroplast division involves a divisome complex in part of cyanobacterial origin, in part eukaryotic. Photosynthetic eukaryotes replaced ancestral glycogen with starch, accumulated either in the host cytosol or in chloroplast stroma, or with β-glucans in cytoplasmic vesicles. Multiple chloroplast transfer is a common occurrence in eukaryotes. A novel primary chloroplast independently evolved in the cercozoan amoeba Paulinella chromatophora. By transferring photosynthesis from the prokaryotic to eukaryotic world, chloroplast evolution dramatically increased global productivity, thus probably being a major driver of the Late-Proterozoic transition from a low- to high-oxygen planet.


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Roberto Ligrone
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Environmental, Biological and Pharmaceutical Sciences and TechnologiesUniversity of Campania “Luigi Vanvitelli”CasertaItaly

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