However, a new piece of research offers an intriguing (albeit equally unproven) alternative. Zhang Wang and Martin Wu of the University of Virginia make an argument that instead of a chancy cellular merger, or engulfment of one prokaryote by another, the mitochondrial machinery actually comes from a parasite. What started out as a bacterium stealing chemical energy eventually became an organism providing chemical energy – in return for an evolutionary advantage.
This proposal comes from a deep look at the genetic relationships between modern mitochondria and 18 closely related free-ranging bacteria. The researchers in effect attempt a reconstruction of the likely metabolic processes of the earliest mitochondria and their immediate precursors. They find that these critters were more likely to have been chemical energy parasites, and probably mobile too – with genes for the bacterial ‘tails’ or flagella that propel many microbes. More.
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