All complex life is composed of eukaryotic (nucleated) cells. The eukaryotic cell arose from prokaryotes just once in four billion years, and otherwise prokaryotes show no tendency to evolve greater complexity. Why not? Prokaryotic genome size is constrained by bioenergetics. The endosymbiosis that gave rise to mitochondria restructured the distribution of DNA in relation to bioenergetic membranes, permitting a remarkable 200,000-fold expansion in the number of genes expressed. This vast leap in genomic capacity was strictly dependent on mitochondrial power, and prerequisite to eukaryote complexity: the key innovation en route to multicellular life.
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We are indebted to A. Hidalgo, D. Braben, F. Harold, J. Ellis, H. Schulz-Vogt, J. Allen, G. Shields and L. Sweetlove for many discussions and comments on the manuscript, M. Farmer, H. Schulz-Vogt and R. Allen for microscopic images. N.L. is very grateful to the UCL Provost’s Venture Research Fellowship, W.M. to the German Research Foundation and the European Research Council (Networkorigins) for funding.
The authors declare no competing financial interests.
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Lane, N., Martin, W. The energetics of genome complexity. Nature 467, 929–934 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature09486
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