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Open Access Highly Accessed Hypothesis

Mitochondrial DNA, chloroplast DNA and the origins of development in eukaryotic organisms

Arnold J Bendich

Author Affiliations

Department of Biology, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195-5325, USA

Biology Direct 2010, 5:42  doi:10.1186/1745-6150-5-42

Published: 29 June 2010

Abstract

Background

Several proposals have been made to explain the rise of multicellular life forms. An internal environment can be created and controlled, germ cells can be protected in novel structures, and increased organismal size allows a "division of labor" among cell types. These proposals describe advantages of multicellular versus unicellular organisms at levels of organization at or above the individual cell. I focus on a subsequent phase of evolution, when multicellular organisms initiated the process of development that later became the more complex embryonic development found in animals and plants. The advantage here is realized at the level of the mitochondrion and chloroplast.

Hypothesis

The extreme instability of DNA in mitochondria and chloroplasts has not been widely appreciated even though it was first reported four decades ago. Here, I show that the evolutionary success of multicellular animals and plants can be traced to the protection of organellar DNA. Three stages are envisioned. Sequestration allowed mitochondria and chloroplasts to be placed in "quiet" germ line cells so that their DNA is not exposed to the oxidative stress produced by these organelles in "active" somatic cells. This advantage then provided Opportunity, a period of time during which novel processes arose for signaling within and between cells and (in animals) for cell-cell recognition molecules to evolve. Development then led to the enormous diversity of animals and plants.

Implications

The potency of a somatic stem cell is its potential to generate cell types other than itself, and this is a systems property. One of the biochemical properties required for stemness to emerge from a population of cells might be the metabolic quiescence that protects organellar DNA from oxidative stress.

Reviewers

This article was reviewed by John Logsdon, Arcady Mushegian, and Patrick Forterre.