The Ancient and Widespread Nature of the ER–Mitochondria Encounter Structure

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Mitochondria are the result of a billion years of integrative evolution, converting a once free-living bacterium to an organelle deeply linked to diverse cellular processes. One way in which mitochondria are integrated with nonendosymbiotically derived organelles is via endoplasmic reticulum (ER)–mitochondria contact sites. The ER membrane is physically tethered to the mitochondrial outer membrane by the ER–mitochondria encounter structure (ERMES). However, to date, ERMES has only ever been found in the fungal lineage. Here, we bioinformatically demonstrate that ERMES is present in lineages outside Fungi and validate this inference by mass spectrometric identification of ERMES components in Acanthamoeba castellanii mitochondria. We further demonstrate that ERMES is retained in hydrogenosome-bearing but not mitosome-bearing organisms, yielding insight into the process of reductive mitochondrial evolution. Finally, we find that the taxonomic distribution of ERMES is most consistent with rooting the eukaryotic tree between Amorphea (Animals + Fungi + Amoebozoa) + Excavata and all other eukaryotes (Diaphoratickes).

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