Insight into the last eukaryotic common ancestor (LECA) is central to any phylogeny-based reconstruction of early eukaryotic evolution. Increasing amounts of data enable such reconstructions, without necessarily providing further insight into what LECA actually was. We consider four possible concepts of LECA: an abstract phylogenetic state, a single cell, a population, and a consortium of organisms. We argue that the view most realistically underlying work in the field is that of LECA as a population. Drawing on recent findings of genomically heterogeneous populations in eukaryotes (‘pangenomes’), we examine the evolutionary implications of a pangenomic LECA population. For instance, how does this concept affect standard expectations about the ecology, geography, fitness, and diversification of LECA? Does it affect evolutionary interpretations of LECA’s cellular functions? Finally, we examine whether this novel pangenomic concept of LECA has implications for phylogenetic reconstructions of early eukaryote evolution. Our aim is to add to the conceptual toolkit for developing theories of LECA and interpreting genomic datasets.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics