Primary endosymbiosis: have cyanobacteria and Chlamydiae ever been roommates?

Philippe Deschamps


Eukaryotes acquired the ability to process photosynthesis by engulfing a cyanobacterium and transforming it into a genuine organelle called the plastid. This event, named primary endosymbiosis, occurred once more than a billion years ago, and allowed the emergence of the Archaeplastida, a monophyletic supergroup comprising the green algae and plants, the red algae and the glaucophytes. Of the other known cases of symbiosis between cyanobacteria and eukaryotes, none has achieved a comparable level of cell integration nor reached the same evolutionary and ecological success than primary endosymbiosis did. Reasons for this unique accomplishment are still unknown and difficult to comprehend. The exploration of plant genomes has revealed a considerable amount of genes closely related to homologs of Chlamydiae bacteria, and probably acquired by horizontal gene transfer. Several studies have proposed that these transferred genes, which are mostly involved in the functioning of the plastid, may have helped the settlement of primary endosymbiosis. Some of these studies propose that Chlamydiae and cyanobacterial symbionts coexisted in the eukaryotic host of the primary endosymbiosis, and that Chlamydiae provided solutions for the metabolic symbiosis between the cyanobacterium and the host, ensuring the success of primary endosymbiosis. In this review, I present a reevaluation of the contribution of Chlamydiae genes to the genome of Archaeplastida and discuss the strengths and weaknesses of this tripartite model for primary endosymbiosis.


primary endosymbiosis; Archaeplastida; Chlamydiae; horizontal gene transfers

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