Monday, February 07, 2011

Is it time to refer to mitochondria as bacteria?

Any time a scientific article has in the summary a sentence like the one below, I am attracted to it:

"Here, I playfully explore the arguments for and against a phylogenetic fundamentalism that states that mitochondria are bacteria and should be given their own taxonomic family, the Mitochondriaceae."

So how could I not want to read this: Trends in Microbiology - Time to recognise that mitochondria are bacteria?:

Well, one reason is that it had been unavailable outside of the TIM paywall. However, the author, Mark Pallen, with a little prodding from me, managed to get the Editors to feature it as a "free" article on their website for at least some time. So everyone, download this paper and distribute it to as many as you can (legally). Oh, and read it, it is definitely worth a read.

In the article Pallen argues for giving mitochondria their own family w/in bacteria. I think that would be a good idea as they are really just a highly reduced form of bacteria. We give endosymbionts, even those with tiny genomes, their own groups. So why note organelles that are derived from bacteria? After all - phylogenetically they are bacteria.

Pallen even goes so far as to suggest rethinking of mitochondria as bacteria will help with efforts to engineer mitochondria in various ways. That is an interesting notion.

I suppose one could push this to an extreme position and argue that the nucleus and all the genes associated with it are really just a shell around a mitochondrial core. And then I guess all eukaryotes could be considered bacteria. But I do not want to confuse the issue too much here. Overall, I really really like this paper. I wish it were in an OA journal, but since it is free for now I think it is worth checking out. In the long run, it would be better (hint hint Mark Pallen) to publish such thought provoking pieces in places everyone can access ....

So I guess this paper, along with all the "microbiome" stuff means that humans are really just carrying vessels for bacteria.

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