Recent evidence indicates that meiosis arose very early in eukaryotic evolution, which suggests that essential features of meiosis were already present in the prokaryotic ancestors of eukaryotes. Furthermore, in extant organisms, proteins with central functions in meiosis are similar in sequence and function to key proteins in bacterial transformation. In particular, RecA recombinase—which performs the central functions of DNA homology search and strand exchange in bacterial transformation—has orthologs in eukaryotes that carry out similar functions in meiotic recombination. Both transformation and meiosis (including meiotic recombination) in eukaryotic microorganisms are induced by stressful conditions, such as overcrowding, resource depletion, and DNA-damaging conditions, suggesting that these processes are adaptations for dealing with stress. If such environmental stresses were a persistent challenge to the survival of early microorganisms, then continuity of selection through the prokaryote to eukaryote transition probably would have followed a course in which bacterial transformation naturally gave rise to the recombination process that is central to eukaryote meiosis.
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Vol. 60 • No. 7