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The serial endosymbiosis theory is a favored model for explaining the origin of mitochondria, a defining event in the evolution of eukaryotic cells. As usually described, this theory posits that mitochondria are the direct descendants of a bacterial endosymbiont that became established at an early stage in a nucleus-containing (but amitochondriate) host cell. Gene sequence data strongly support a monophyletic origin of the mitochondrion from a eubacterial ancestor shared with a subgroup of the α-Proteobacteria. However, recent studies of unicellular eukaryotes (protists), some of them little known, have provided insights that challenge the traditional serial endosymbiosis–based view of how the eukaryotic cell and its mitochondrion came to be. These data indicate that the mitochondrion arose in a common ancestor of all extant eukaryotes and raise the possibility that this organelle originated at essentially the same time as the nuclear component of the eukaryotic cell rather than in a separate, subsequent event.
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