The Abolition Of The Prokaryote / Eukaryote Dichotomy

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“All wisdom is rooted in learning to call things by the right name. When things are properly identified, they fall into natural categories and understanding becomes orderly” –Confucius. A key aspect in the diverse field of biology has always been the classification of organisms. Even before Darwin postulated his famous theory of evolution and the tree of life, systems existed to name the inhabitants of the natural world and organise them into distinct categories. As our understanding of the world changes and we delve deeper and deeper into life on a molecular level, it becomes necessary to update our techniques and question our previously held beliefs, but often these new ideas are met with resistance and controversy. One such idea is the abolishment of the prokaryote/eukaryote dichotomy, first formally proposed in 1990 by Carl Woese and colleagues (Woese, Kandler and Wheelis, 1990) and yet still unresolved in the present day.
Prokaryotes were defined in 1962 by Stanier and van Niel as “anucleate cells, without membrane enclosed organelles of respiration or photosynthesis, divided by fission not mitosis, and used peptidoglycan to strengthen their walls” (Mayr, 1998). This definition and the creation of the prokaryote/eukaryote dichotomy served to highlight the diversity and significance of the single-celled organisms previously labelled ‘Monera’ and relegated to the same kingdom status as the distinct groups of plants animals and fungi (Sapp, 2009; Woese, Kandler and
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