Fossil range: Proterozoic - Recent
|Ostreococcus is the smallest known free living eukaryote with an average size of 0.8 µm.|
Whittaker & Margulis,1978
Animalia - Animals
Plantae - Plants
A eukaryote (pronounced /juːˈkæriɒt/ or /juːˈkærioʊt/) is an organism whose cells contain complex structures inside the membranes. The defining membrane-bound structure that sets eukaryotic cells apart from prokaryotic cells is the nucleus, or nuclear envelope, within which the genetic material is carried. The presence of a nucleus gives eukaryotes their name, which comes from the Greek ευ (eu, "good", "noble" & "true") and κάρυον (karyon, "nut" & "kernel"). Most eukaryotic cells also contain other membrane-bound organelles such as mitochondria, chloroplasts and the Golgi apparatus. Almost all species of large organisms are eukaryotes, including animals, plants and fungi, although most species of eukaryotic protists are microorganisms.
Cell division in eukaryotes is different from that in organisms without a nucleus (prokaryotes). It involves separating the duplicated chromosomes, through movements directed by microtubules. There are two types of division processes. In mitosis, one cell divides to produce two genetically identical cells. In meiosis, which is required in sexual reproduction, one diploid cell (having two instances of each chromosome, one from each parent) undergoes recombination of each pair of parental chromosomes, and then two stages of cell division, resulting in four haploid cells (gametes). Each gamete has just one complement of chromosomes, each a unique mix of the corresponding pair of parental chromosomes.
Eukaryotic cells are typically much larger than prokaryotes. They have a variety of internal membranes and structures, called organelles, and a cytoskeleton composed of microtubules, microfilaments, and intermediate filaments, which play an important role in defining the cell's organization and shape. Eukaryotic DNA is divided into several linear bundles called chromosomes, which are separated by a microtubular spindle during nuclear division.
Eukaryotic cells include a variety of membrane-bound structures, collectively referred to as the endomembrane system. Simple compartments, called vesicles or vacuoles, can form by budding off other membranes. Many cells ingest food and other materials through a process of endocytosis, where the outer membrane invaginates and then pinches off to form a vesicle. It is probable that most other membrane-bound organelles are ultimately derived from such vesicles.
The nucleus is surrounded by a double membrane (commonly referred to as a nuclear envelope), with pores that allow material to move in and out. Various tube- and sheet-like extensions of the nuclear membrane form what is called the endoplasmic reticulum or ER, which is involved in protein transport and maturation. It includes the rough ER where ribosomes are attached, and the proteins they synthesize enter the interior space or lumen. Subsequently, they generally enter vesicles, which bud off from the smooth ER. In most eukaryotes, these protein-carrying vesicles are released and further modified in stacks of flattened vesicles, called Golgi bodies or dictyosomes.
Vesicles may be specialized for various purposes. For instance, lysosomes contain enzymes that break down the contents of food vacuoles, and peroxisomes are used to break down peroxide, which is toxic otherwise. Many protozoa have contractile vacuoles, which collect and expel excess water, and extrusomes, which expel material used to deflect predators or capture prey. In multicellular organisms, hormones are often produced in vesicles. In higher plants, most of a cell's volume is taken up by a central vacuole, which primarily maintains its osmotic pressure.
Mitochondria are organelles found in nearly all eukaryotes. They are surrounded by double membranes (known as the phospholipid bi-layer), the inner of which is folded into invaginations called cristae, where aerobic respiration takes place. Mitochondria contain their own DNA and ribosomes and are only formed by the fission of other mitochondria. They are now generally held to have developed from endosymbiotic prokaryotes, probably proteobacteria. The few protozoa that lack mitochondria have been found to contain mitochondrion-derived organelles, such as hydrogenosomes and mitosomes.
Plants and various groups of algae also have plastids. Again, these have their own DNA and developed from endosymbiotes, in this case cyanobacteria. They usually take the form of chloroplasts, which like cyanobacteria contain chlorophyll and produce energy through photosynthesis. Others are involved in storing food. Although plastids likely had a single origin, not all plastid-containing groups are closely related. Instead, some eukaryotes have obtained them from others through secondary endosymbiosis or ingestion.
Endosymbiotic origins have also been proposed for the nucleus, for which see below, and for eukaryotic flagella, supposed to have developed from spirochaetes. This is not generally accepted, both from a lack of cytological evidence and difficulty in reconciling this with cellular reproduction.
Many eukaryotes have long slender motile cytoplasmic projections, called flagella, or similar, but shorter structures called cilia. Flagella and cilia are sometimes referred to as undulipodia, and are variously involved in movement, feeding, and sensation. They are composed mainly of tubulin. These are entirely distinct from prokaryotic flagella. They are supported by a bundle of microtubules arising from a basal body, also called a kinetosome or centriole, characteristically arranged as nine doublets surrounding two singlets. Flagella also may have hairs, or mastigonemes, and scales connecting membranes and internal rods. Their interior is continuous with the cell's cytoplasm.
Microfilamental structures composed by actin and actin binding proteins, e.g., α-actinin, fimbrin, filamin are present in submembraneous cortical layers and bundles, as well. Motor proteins of microtubules, e.g., dynein or kinesin and actin, e.g., myosins provide dynamic character of the network.
Centrioles are often present even in cells and groups that do not have flagella. They generally occur in groups of one or two, called kinetids, that give rise to various microtubular roots. These form a primary component of the cytoskeletal structure, and are often assembled over the course of several cell divisions, with one flagellum retained from the parent and the other derived from it. Centrioles may also be associated in the formation of a spindle during nuclear division.
Significance of cytoskeletal structures is underlined in determination of shape of the cells, as well as their being essential components of migratory responses like chemotaxis and chemokinesis. Some protists have various other microtubule-supported organelles. These include the radiolaria and heliozoa, which produce axopodia used in flotation or to capture prey, and the haptophytes, which have a peculiar flagellum-like organelle called the haptonema.
Plant cells have a cell wall, a fairly rigid layer outside the cell membrane, providing the cell with structural support, protection, and a filtering mechanism. The cell wall also prevents over-expansion when water enters the cell. The major carbohydrates making up the primary cell wall of land plants are cellulose, hemicellulose, and pectin. The cellulose microfibrils are linked via hemicellulosic tethers to form the cellulose-hemicellulose network, which is embedded in the pectin matrix. The most common hemicellulose in the primary cell wall is xyloglucan.
There are many different types of eukaryotic cells, though animals and plants are the most familiar eukaryotes, and thus provide an excellent starting point for understanding eukaryotic structure. Fungi and many protists have some substantial differences, however.
An animal cell is a form of eukaryotic cell that makes up many tissues in animals. The animal cell is distinct from other eukaryotes, most notably plant cells, as they lack cell walls and chloroplasts, and they have smaller vacuoles. Due to the lack of a rigid cell wall, animal cells can adopt a variety of shapes, and a phagocytic cell can even engulf other structures.
Plant cells are quite different from the cells of the other eukaryotic organisms. Their distinctive features are:
Fungal cells are most similar to animal cells, with the following exceptions:
Eukaryotes are a very diverse group, and their cell structures are equally diverse. Many have cell walls; many do not. Many have chloroplasts, derived from primary, secondary, or even tertiary endosymbiosis; and many do not. Some groups have unique structures, such as the cyanelles of the glaucophytes, the haptonema of the haptophytes, or the ejectisomes of the cryptomonads. Other structures, such as pseudopods, are found in various eukaryote groups in different forms, such as the lobose amoebozoans or the reticulose foraminiferans.
Nuclear division is often coordinated with cell division. This generally takes place by mitosis, a process that allows each daughter nucleus to receive one copy of each chromosome. In most eukaryotes, there is also a process of sexual reproduction, typically involving an alternation between haploid generations, wherein only one copy of each chromosome is present, and diploid generations, wherein two are present, occurring through nuclear fusion (syngamy) and meiosis. There is considerable variation in this pattern, however.
Eukaryotes have a smaller surface area to volume ratio than prokaryotes, and thus have lower metabolic rates and longer generation times. In some multicellular organisms, cells specialized for metabolism will have enlarged surface areas, such as intestinal vili.
The origin of the eukaryotic cell was a milestone in the evolution of life, since they include all complex cells and almost all multi-cellular organisms. The timing of this series of events is hard to determine; Knoll (2006) suggests they developed approximately 1.6–2.1 billion years ago. Some acritarchs are known from at least 1650 million years ago, and the possible alga Grypania has been found as far back as 2100 million years ago.
Fossils that are clearly related to modern groups start appearing around 1.2 billion years ago, in the form of a red alga, though recent work suggests the existence of fossilized filamentous algae in the Vindhya basin dating back to 1.6 to 1.7 billion years ago.
rRNA trees constructed during the 1980s and 1990s left most eukaryotes in an unresolved "crown" group (not technically a true crown), which was usually divided by the form of the mitochondrial cristae; see crown eukaryotes. The few groups that lack mitochondria branched separately, and so the absence was believed to be primitive; but this is now considered an artifact of long-branch attraction, and they are known to have lost them secondarily.
More recent work has painted a different picture. Most eukaryotes are now included in one of the following supergroups, although the relationship between these groups, and the monophyly of each group, is not yet clear:. Some groups position in the tree is still unclear, as in Kamera lens.
|Opisthokonts||Animals, fungi, choanoflagellates, etc.|
|Amoebozoa||Most lobose amoeboids and slime moulds|
|Rhizaria||Foraminifera, Radiolaria, and various other amoeboid protozoa|
|Excavates||Various flagellate protozoa|
|Archaeplastida (or Primoplantae)||Land plants, green algae, red algae, and glaucophytes|
|Chromalveolates||Heterokonts, Haptophytes, Cryptomonads, and Alveolates.|
A further proposal is that eukaryotes can be classified into two larger clades, the unikonts and the bikonts, that derive from an ancestral uniflagellar organism and a biflagellate, respectively. In this system, the opisthokonts and amoebozoans are considered unikonts, and the rest bikonts. The correct relationships of the organisms in the Archaeplastida and Chromalveolates is far from clear, and it seems likely that neither group, as defined above, is monophyletic. Some small protist groups have not been related to any of these supergroups, in particular the characteristics of the anaerobic protist Breviata anathema seems to contradict the unikont/bikont division.
Eukaryotes are more closely related to Archaea than Bacteria, at least in terms of nuclear DNA and genetic machinery, and one controversial idea is to place them with Archaea in the clade Neomura. However, in other respects, such as membrane composition, eukaryotes are similar to Bacteria. Three main explanations for this have been proposed:
The origins of the endomembrane system and mitochondria are also unclear. The phagotrophic hypothesis proposes that eukaryotic-type membranes lacking a cell wall originated first, with the development of endocytosis, whereas mitochondria were acquired by ingestion as endosymbionts. The syntrophic hypothesis proposes that the proto-eukaryote relied on the proto-mitochondrion for food, and so ultimately grew to surround it. Here the membranes originated after the engulfment of the mitochondrion, in part thanks to mitochondrial genes (the hydrogen hypothesis is one particular version).
In a study using genomes to construct supertrees, Pisani et al. (2007) suggest that, along with evidence that there was never a mitochondrion-less eukaryote, eukaryotes evolved from a syntrophy between an archaea closely related to Thermoplasmatales and an α-proteobacterium, likely a symbiosis driven by sulfur or hydrogen. The mitochondrion and its genome is a remnant of the α-proteobacterial endosymbiont.
Ancient Greek ἐΰς (eus), “‘true’”) + κάρυον (karyon), “‘nut’”)
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