Molecular machines drive essential biological processes, with the component parts of these machines each contributing a partial function or structural element. Mitochondria are organelles of eukaryotic cells, and depend for their biogenesis on a set of molecular machines for protein transport. How these molecular machines evolved is a fundamental question. Mitochondria were derived from an alpha-proteobacterial endosymbiont, and we identified in alpha-proteobacteria the component parts of a mitochondrial protein transport machine. In bacteria, the components are found in the inner membrane, topologically equivalent to the mitochondrial proteins. Although the bacterial proteins function in simple assemblies, relatively little mutation would be required to convert them to function as a protein transport machine. This analysis of protein transport provides a blueprint for the evolution of cellular machinery in general.
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