Plastids and protein targeting

G I McFadden
Journal of Eukaryotic Microbiology 1999, 46 (4): 339-46
Plastids with two bounding membranes--as exemplified by red algae, green algae, plants, and glaucophytes--derive from primary endosymbiosis; a process involving engulfment and retention of a cyanobacterium by a phagotrophic eukaryote. Plastids with more than two bounding membranes (such as those of euglenoids, dinoflagellates, heterokonts, haptopytes, apicomplexa, cryptomonads, and chlorarachniophytes) probably arose by secondary endosymbiosis, in which a eukaryotic alga (itself the product of primary endosymbiosis) was engulfed and retained by a phagotroph. Secondary endosymbiosis transfers photosynthetic capacity into heterotrophic lineages, has apparently occurred numerous times, and has created several major eukaryotic lineages comprising upwards of 42,600 species. Plastids acquired by secondary endosymbiosis are sometimes referred to as "second-hand." Establishment of secondary endosymbioses has involved transfer of genes from the endosymbiont nucleus to the secondary host nucleus. Limited gene transfer could initially have served to stabilise the endosymbioses, but it is clear that the transfer process has been extensive, leading in many cases to the complete disappearance of the endosymbiont nucleus. One consequence of these gene transfers is that gene products required in the plastid must be targeted into the organelle across multiple membranes: at least three for stromal proteins in euglenoids and dinoflagellates, and across five membranes in the case of thylakoid lumen proteins in plastids with four bounding membranes. Evolution of such targeting mechanisms was obviously a key step in the successful establishment of each different secondary endosymbiosis. Analysis of targeted proteins in the various organisms now suggests that a similar system is used by each group. However, rather than interpreting this similarity as evidence of an homologous origin, I believe that targeting has evolved convergently by combining and recycling existing protein trafficking mechanisms already existing in the endosymbiont and host. Indeed, by analyzing the multiple motifs in targeting sequences of some genes it is possible to infer that they originated in the plastid genome, transferred from there into the primary host nucleus, and subsequently moved into the secondary host nucleus. Thus, each step of the targeting process in "second-hand" plastids recapitulates the gene's previous intracellular transfers.

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