Piecing together the prokaryote to eukaryote transition

Using evolutionary analyses to study proteins with an important role in the origin of eukaryotes.


The origin of eukaryotes was one of the most impactful evolutionary event in the history of life on Earth. This transition likely took place through the symbiosis of an archaeal host cell and an intracellular bacterium, which eventually became the mitochondrion. While mind-bogglingly interesting, this topic has been difficult to study because of lack of information on close prokaryotic relatives of eukaryotes.

The development of sequencing techniques and computational resources, together with renewed exploration efforts of the existing microbial diversity, has led to the recent discovery of major, tremendously divergent and diverse microbial lineages. One of these is the Asgard archaea, which current analyses identify as the closest archaeal relatives of eukaryotes.

We have in our hands a fantastic opportunity to study this novel microbial lineage and get closer to understanding how eukaryotes originated.


At our lab we have 80 genomes of Asgard archaea at our disposal. Using these genomes, we search for proteins that are homologous to important eukaryotic proteins. This approach has identified the origins of several important eukaryotic cellular systems, such as those related to membrane remodeling or the cytoskeleton. We aim to identify more of these proteins and to bring more light into how eukaryotes came to be.


Bioinformatics techniques, such as sequence similarity searches (Blast, HMMer, Interproscan, etc.) and phylogenetics. Results analyses may require programming and plotting.

BSc/MSc theses

Thesis projects are available for BSc or MSc students with interest in evolutionary microbiology and bioinformatics. Experience with working on linux command line and programming (e.g. python, R) is appreciated but not necessary.


Are you interested in working this project? Please contact Daniel Tamarit ChaliĆ”.