Understanding cellular organisation: from archaea to eukaryotes


  • Prof Buzz Baum

    University College London

  • Prof Mohan Balasubramanian

    University of Warwick

  • Dr Jan Löwe

    MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology

  • Dr Ricardo Henriques

    University College London

  • Dr Ann-Christin Lindas

    Stockholm University

  • Dr Thijs Ettema

    University of Uppsala

  • Prof Ethan Garner

    Harvard University

Project summary

The diversity of life we can see with the naked eye is breathtaking. Nevertheless, at the microscopic scale, remarkable similarities become apparent in the sub-cellular organisation of plants, animals and fungi, which reflects their common origin. All are eukaryotes and all possess a nucleus, a complex network of internal membranes and mitochondria. The establishment and maintenance of these membrane-bound compartments remains poorly understood, in part due to the lack of experimental models of intermediate complexity between eukaryotes and the small, structurally simpler non-eukaryotic cells that gave rise to them. Remarkably, however, relatives of molecular machines once thought to define eukaryotic cell organisation were recently identified in archaea. Thus archaea, which have long been neglected because some live in extreme environments and do not cause many diseases, likely hold important clues about our origins and provide us with stripped-down systems in which to better understand eukaryotic cell biology. 

By studying how the conserved archaeal molecular machines contributed to the transition between prokaryotic and eukaryotic cell organisation, we aim to gain new insights into the cell biology of eukaryotes: from malaria to cancer and stem cells. 

We expect our findings to have profound implications for human health and the treatment of disease.