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Current Issue of Nature


Volume 577 Issue 7791, 23 January 2020

Volume 577 Issue 7791, 23 January 2020

Cellular connections

Complex life forms, from plants to animals, are eukaryotes: their cells feature internal compartments such as the nucleus that are themselves contained within an internal membrane. But the origins of eukaryotes remain unclear. In this week’s issue, Hiroyuki Imachi, Masaru K. Nobu and their colleagues introduce a single-celled microorganism that could help to shed light on the evolutionary pathway that gave rise to early eukaryotic cells. For the first time, the researchers have managed to culture and isolate a member of the Asgard archaea, a group of microbes thought to be the closest living ancestors of eukaryotes. The team named the archaeon ‘Candidatus Prometheoarchaeum syntrophicum’ and found that it grows very slowly, doubling in number every 14–25 days, and it requires a microbial partner to support its growth. Intriguingly, the microbes often have branching protrusions on their outer surface, as shown in the cover image. It is possible that such protrusions could have enabled ancient archaea to grab passing bacteria, which were then internalized and eventually evolved into membrane-bound components, such as the mitochondrian, setting the stage for complex life forms.

Cover image: Hiroyuki Imachi, Masaru K. Nobu and JAMSTEC

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