Organelles are sub-cellular compartments in cells. However prokaryotes don't use organelles to organise their intracellular space.

Evolutionarily, there is evidence that mitochondria and chloroplasts are ancestors of symbiotic prokaryotes. This theory is called the endosymbiotic theory.

I've tried to find an evolutionary story that explains other organelles, specifically the endoplasmic reticulum. There is plenty of literature about biogenesis of these organelles, but nothing about the history of their evolution. I don't think I have found the right area of literature. What did organelles originate from? I'm happy just to know a few keywords or a citation to look it up myself.

  • $\begingroup$ This seems rather broad since there are many organelles and nobody really actually knows how they evolved. $\endgroup$
    – canadianer
    May 18, 2015 at 16:46
  • $\begingroup$ @canadier I wasn't sure how broad this would be. For example is there one core theory or multiple theories for each organelle. I'm only really interested in the ER, so I'll edit that in. The gap in knowledge explains why it seems quite hard to pin down a good source! Thanks. $\endgroup$
    – James
    May 18, 2015 at 16:48
  • $\begingroup$ I'm not sure how broad it is either, it just seems broad. I haven't read this, but the abstract sounds promising: link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007%2F978-0-387-74021-8_5 $\endgroup$
    – canadianer
    May 18, 2015 at 17:01
  • $\begingroup$ To me, an important observation to make is the resorption of the nuclear envelope into the ER during mitosis, and then it's protein-chromatin-protein interactions that reassemble the nucleus. $\endgroup$
    – CKM
    May 18, 2015 at 19:01

2 Answers 2


Found the following on wikipedia. Seems pretty self explanatory:

The Golgi, ER, and lysosomes are likely to have evolved as a result of the plasma membrane going through invagination. An increase in the overall volume of a cell would require the plasma membrane to fold in order to maintain a constant surface area to volume ratio. These folds may have led to the specialization of internal membranes to maintain communication with the environment. In the first stages of eukaryotic cell life, the membranes may have been interconnected and attached to the plasma membrane. Later on, as their functions diverged, the membranes may have become separate structures

  • $\begingroup$ This is ideal and seems, at least to me, hypothetically plausible. The reference is a bit dated though (1994) and their only evidence is that these organelles use a different membrane transport pathway to the chloroplasts or mitochondria, rather than any sequence analysis. So it is somewhat conjecture... It's a start though! I'll trawl through pubmed to see if anything similar cited this paper. $\endgroup$
    – James
    May 18, 2015 at 18:01
  • $\begingroup$ further support for comes from the fact that the Endoplasmic Reticulum of many living groups are connected directly to the exterior. In red algae for instance the ER is contiguous with the plasmalemma (exterior membrane) . $\endgroup$
    – John
    Apr 24, 2017 at 19:45

From (brief) section, Evolution, in Wikipedia's article, Endomembrane system:

The most recent concept suggests that the endomembrane system evolved from outer membrane vesicles the endosymbiotic mitochondrion secreted. This OMV-based model for the origin of the endomembrane system is currently the one that requires the least amount of novel inventions at eukaryote origin and explains the many connections of mitochondria with other compartments of the cell.

The text above includes references to two articles published in journals in 2016.



You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .