Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research

The origin and diversification of eukaryotic metabolisms

Eukaryotic metabolisms in light of Earth history - from the deep past into the future

The origin of eukaryotes represents a defining event in life’s history hypothesized to have occurred in the marine realm. Eukaryotes originated through a symbiosis between archaea and bacteria. Yet crucial questions on the early evolution and diversification of eukaryotes throughout Earth and climate history remain unresolved, hampering predictions on the future evolution of ocean life. We aim to deliver a detailed model on the origin of eukaryotes and trace the sources and subsequent diversification of eukaryotic enzymes relative to geological events. This will be achieved using genomics approaches integrating fossil and paleoenvironmental data to bridge biological evolution with geological records.


A unique opportunity to strengthen the UU bioinformatics by initiating a new connection between genomics groups at UU and NIOZ

    Berend Snel, Anja Spang

 Project team

Combined knowledge

We have assembled a multidisciplinary team to achieve our goals. In particular, our team is comprised of the main PIs Dr. Berend Snel (UU) and Dr. Anja Spang (NIOZ, MMB) as well as the Co-PIs Dr. Emmanuelle Javaux (paleogeobiologist at University of Liège), Dr. Paul Mason (expert in Precambrian geology/geochemistry at UU) and Dr. Rick Hennekam (expert in paleoclimatology, NIOZ, OCS). Dr. Snel chairs the bioinformatics group at the Department of Biology, Faculty of Science, UU and has pioneered many discoveries leveraging genomic data to study genome evolution, pathway diversity and networks. Dr. Spang is a tenure track scientist at NIOZ with a research focus on the early evolution and diversification of life and the role of symbioses in evolutionary transitions.

The combined knowledge of Dr Spang and Dr Snel spans the earliest aspects of eukaryotic evolution from the microbial ancestors to the vast diversity of extant eukaryotes and brings together expertise in metagenomics, microbial evolution, phylogenetics and molecular dating. Bioinformatics represents a crucial aspect of the life sciences today and is one of the focus programs of UU. This collaborative project provides a unique opportunity to connect NIOZ to this focus program by initiating a new connection between genomics groups at UU and NIOZ. Furthermore, the integration of existing and novel biomarker and fossil data in collaboration with paleogeobiologist Dr. Javaux, an expert in the early eukaryotic fossil records, adds an interdisciplinary aspect and bridges evolution with Earth history. Finally, the project benefits from collaborations with experts in deep Earth-ocean-atmosphere reconstructions at UU and NIOZ, particularly Dr. Mason.

Figure: Illustration of the tree of life with eukaryotes originating through a symbiosis between archaea and bacteria.  

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There are two basic types of cells, prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells. Photo:

Connected themes

  • Ocean of Discovery
  • Our Future Ocean 
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