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By the end of this section, you will be able to:
  • List the unifying characteristics of eukaryotes
  • Describe what scientists know about the origins of eukaryotes based on the last common ancestor
  • Explain endosymbiotic theory

Living things fall into three large groups: Archaea, Bacteria, and Eukarya. The first two have prokaryotic cells, and the third contains all eukaryotes. A relatively sparse fossil record is available to help discern what the first members of each of these lineages looked like, so it is possible that all the events that led to the last common ancestor of extant eukaryotes will remain unknown. However, comparative biology of extant organisms and the limited fossil record provide some insight into the history of Eukarya.

The earliest fossils found appear to be Bacteria, most likely cyanobacteria. They are about 3.5 billion years old and are recognizable because of their relatively complex structure and, for prokaryotes, relatively large cells. Most other prokaryotes have small cells, 1 or 2 µm in size, and would be difficult to pick out as fossils. Most living eukaryotes have cells measuring 10 µm or greater. Structures this size, which might be fossils, appear in the geological record about 2.1 billion years ago.

Characteristics of eukaryotes

Data from these fossils have led comparative biologists to the conclusion that living eukaryotes are all descendants of a single common ancestor. Mapping the characteristics found in all major groups of eukaryotes reveals that the following characteristics must have been present in the last common ancestor, because these characteristics are present in at least some of the members of each major lineage.

  1. Cells with nuclei surrounded by a nuclear envelope with nuclear pores. This is the single characteristic that is both necessary and sufficient to define an organism as a eukaryote. All extant eukaryotes have cells with nuclei.
  2. Mitochondria. Some extant eukaryotes have very reduced remnants of mitochondria in their cells, whereas other members of their lineages have “typical” mitochondria.
  3. A cytoskeleton containing the structural and motility components called actin microfilaments and microtubules. All extant eukaryotes have these cytoskeletal elements.
  4. Flagella and cilia, organelles associated with cell motility. Some extant eukaryotes lack flagella and/or cilia, but they are descended from ancestors that possessed them.
  5. Chromosomes, each consisting of a linear DNA molecule coiled around basic (alkaline) proteins called histones. The few eukaryotes with chromosomes lacking histones clearly evolved from ancestors that had them.
  6. Mitosis, a process of nuclear division wherein replicated chromosomes are divided and separated using elements of the cytoskeleton. Mitosis is universally present in eukaryotes.
  7. Sex, a process of genetic recombination unique to eukaryotes in which diploid nuclei at one stage of the life cycle undergo meiosis to yield haploid nuclei and subsequent karyogamy, a stage where two haploid nuclei fuse together to create a diploid zygote nucleus.
  8. Members of all major lineages have cell walls, and it might be reasonable to conclude that the last common ancestor could make cell walls during some stage of its life cycle. However, not enough is known about eukaryotes’ cell walls and their development to know how much homology exists among them. If the last common ancestor could make cell walls, it is clear that this ability must have been lost in many groups.

Questions & Answers

what is cell?
V.S.Nikhil Reply
The smallest structure and functional unit
vinod
Hydra reproduce through which process
Saint Reply
which is smallest organ in our body
Techi
pineal gland
Himangshu
Yh in the ears...
Mozua
why you hand plam is sweating in everytime
Techi
who is the father of mycology
Sagar Reply
Heinrich Anton de Bary
Delissa
describe the similarities and differences between cytokinesis mechanism found in animal cells versus in plant cells
hiro Reply
are humans beings considered to have the eukaryotic cells
success Reply
yes.....
Delissa
eukaryotes are organisms that possess cells with a nucleus enclosed in a membrane, humans, and all complex organisms are eukaryotes.
Delissa
so humans and animals also have cell membranes.... cause I did this test prep and they said plants...I just want to be sure
success
and thank you for your reply it was helpful👍✌
success
eu= "perfect", "good", karyon= nut, amound, nucleus
Tiago
you're welcome. Plants are also eukaryotes.
Delissa
plants, like animals, possess a nucleus bound by a membrane.
Delissa
similarities and differences between cytokinesis mechanism found in animal cell vs cell division
Raymark Reply
what is the name of a male flower?
Ikeomu Reply
staminate means flower containing only stamen
Falak
what is the definition of evolution in a population?
Homero Reply
the slow changing of a species to adapt to any changes in the environment or how it feeds/hunts. im not good at explaining things lol.
Eclipse
the organ which is sensitive to light in euglena
Fatimah Reply
the organ which is sensitive to light in euglena is
Fatimah
all chlorophyll containing motile cells are sensitive to light
Himangshu
there is no more other chapter
Sandeep Reply
Give tow examples for nutritional deficiency Diseases-
Singampalli Reply
How does a plant cell look like
Sang Reply
in a sleepers form
David
what do you mean ? I could not understand
Gul
they have a regular shape and a large vacoule
Fatimah
I thought it looked like rectangle
Abrahán
a stage in mitosis wherein in spindle fibers begin to shorten to pu the sister chromatids away from each other towards the opposite ends of the cell
Earl Reply
a stage in interphase where chromosome s are duplicated
Earl
What is biodiversity
Sp Reply
Hmm
Hele
Name two secretions of Golgi apparatus
Daniel Reply

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Source:  OpenStax, Biology. OpenStax CNX. Feb 29, 2016 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11448/1.10
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