Inspired by the evolution of eukaryotic organelles, we propose a conceptual framework to study the evolutionary and ecological drivers of symbiosis, including three main elements: a currency, mechanisms of currency exchange, and inheritance.
Currency in symbiosis is the type resources that species in a beneficial symbiosis gain from their partner.
Currency exchange is a complex process that requires molecular adaptations in one or both partners.
We identify two distinct but not mutually exclusive initial evolutionary imperatives for the establishment of symbiosis, termed currency first, in which the initial interaction stems from a common currency exchange between the interacting partners to complement their environmental requirements, and transmission first, in which stable transgenerational transmission precedes the evolution of currency exchange.
Symbiotic interactions between eukaryotes and prokaryotes are widespread in nature. Here we offer a conceptual framework to study the evolutionary origins and ecological circumstances of species in beneficial symbiosis. We posit that mutual symbiotic interactions are well described by three elements: a currency, the mechanism of currency exchange, and mechanisms of symbiont inheritance. Each of these elements may be at the origin of symbiosis, with the other elements developing with time. The identity of currency in symbiosis depends on the ecological context of the symbiosis, while the specificity of the exchange mechanism underlies molecular adaptations for the symbiosis. The inheritance regime determines the degree of partner dependency and the symbiosis evolutionary trajectory. Focusing on these three elements, we review examples and open questions in the research on symbiosis.