The origins of diversified life remain mysterious despite considerable efforts devoted to untangling the roots of the universal tree of life. Here we reconstructed phylogenies that described the evolution of molecular functions and the evolution of species directly from a genomic census of gene ontology (GO) definitions. We sampled 249 free-living genomes spanning organisms in the three superkingdoms of life, Archaea, Bacteria, and Eukarya, and used the abundance of GO terms as molecular characters to produce rooted phylogenetic trees. Results revealed an early thermophilic origin of Archaea that was followed by genome reduction events in microbial superkingdoms. Eukaryal genomes displayed extraordinary functional diversity and were enriched with hundreds of novel molecular activities not detected in the akaryotic microbial cells. Remarkably, the majority of these novel functions appeared quite late in evolution, synchronized with the diversification of the eukaryal superkingdom. The distribution of GO terms in superkingdoms confirms that Archaea appears to be the simplest and most ancient form of cellular life, while Eukarya is the most diverse and recent.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics