Excavata is a former supergroup of unicellular organisms belonging to the domain Eukaryota.[1][2][3] It was first suggested by Simpson and Patterson in 1999[4][5] and introduced by Thomas Cavalier-Smith in 2002 as a formal taxon. It contains a variety of free-living and symbiotic forms, and includes some important parasites of humans, such as Giardia and Trichomonas.[6] Excavates were formerly considered to be included in the now obsolete Protista kingdom.[7] They were classified based on their flagellar structures,[5] and were considered to be the most basal flagellate lineage.[8]

Temporal range:
Giardia lamblia.jpg
Giardia lamblia, a parasitic diplomonad
Scientific classification e
(obsolete as paraphyletic)
Domain: Eukaryota
(unranked): Excavata
(Cavalier-Smith), 2002
Phyla and classes

see text

Three types of excavate cells. Top: Jakobida, 1-nucleus, 2-anterior flagellum, 3-ventral/posterior flagellum, 4-ventral feeding groove. Middle: Euglenozoa, 1-nucleus, 2-flagellar pocket/reservoir, 3-dorsal/anterior flagellum, 4-ventral/posterior flagellum, 5-cytostome/feeding apparatus. Bottom: Metamonada, 1-anterior flagella, 2-parabasal body, 3-undulating membrane, 4-posterior flagellum, 5-nucleus, 6-axostyle.

Phylogenomic analyses indicate that the Excavata are polyphyletic, not forming a single natural group.[9] Excavata has therefore been split into three groups, not all closely related: Discobids, Metamonads and Malawimonads.[10][11][12] Except for Euglenozoa, they are all non-photosynthetic.


Most excavates are unicellular, heterotrophic flagellates. Only the Euglenozoa are photosynthetic. In some (particularly anaerobic intestinal parasites), the mitochondria have been greatly reduced.[6] Some excavates lack "classical" mitochondria, and are called "amitochondriate", although most retain a mitochondrial organelle in greatly modified form (e.g. a hydrogenosome or mitosome). Among those with mitochondria, the mitochondrial cristae may be tubular, discoidal, or in some cases, laminar. Most excavates have two, four, or more flagella.[5] Many have a conspicuous ventral feeding groove with a characteristic ultrastructure, supported by microtubules—the "excavated" appearance of this groove giving the organisms their name.[4][7] However, various groups that lack these traits may be considered excavates based on genetic evidence (primarily phylogenetic trees of molecular sequences).[7]

The Acrasidae slime molds are the only excavates to exhibit limited multicellularity. Like other cellular slime molds, they live most of their life as single cells, but will sometimes assemble into larger clusters.

Proposed groupEdit

Excavate relationships were always uncertain, suggesting that they are not a monophyletic group.[13] The malawimonads often do not branch with the other Excavata.[14]

Excavates were thought to include multiple groups:

Kingdom/Superphylum Included taxa Representative genera (examples) Description
Discoba or JEH or Eozoa Tsukubea Tsukubamonas
Euglenozoa EuglenaTrypanosoma Many important parasites, one large group with plastids (chloroplasts)
Heterolobosea (Percolozoa) Naegleria, Acrasis Most alternate between flagellate and amoeboid forms
Jakobea Jakoba, Reclinomonas Free-living, sometimes loricate flagellates, with very gene-rich mitochondrial genomes
Metamonada or POD Preaxostyla Oxymonads, Trimastix Amitochondriate flagellates, either free-living (Trimastix, Paratrimastix) or living in the hindguts of insects
Fornicata Giardia, Carpediemonas Amitochondriate, mostly symbiotes and parasites of animals.
Parabasalia Trichomonas Amitochondriate flagellates, generally intestinal commensals of insects. Some human pathogens.
Neolouka Malawimonadida Malawimonas

Discoba or JEH cladeEdit

Euglenozoa and Heterolobosea (Percolozoa) or Eozoa (Cavalier-Smith) appear to be particularly close relatives, and are united by the presence of discoid cristae within the mitochondria (Superphylum Discicristata). A close relationship has been shown between Discicristata and Jakobida,[15] the latter having tubular cristae like most other protists, and hence were united under the taxon name Discoba, which was proposed for this apparently monophyletic group.[2]


Metamonads are unusual in not having classical mitochondria—instead they have hydrogenosomes, mitosomes or uncharacterised organelles. The oxymonad Monocercomonoides is reported to have completely lost homologous organelles. There are competing explanations.[16][17]


The malawimonads have been proposed to be members of Excavata owing to their typical excavate morphology, and phylogenetic affinity to other excavate groups in some molecular phylogenies. However, their position among eukaryotes remains elusive.[3]


Ancyromonads are small free-living cells with a narrow longitudinal groove down one side of the cell. The ancyromonad groove is not used for "suspension feeding", unlike in "typical excavates" (e.g. malawimonads, jakobids, Trimastix, Carpediemonas, Kiperferlia, etc). Ancyromonads instead capture prokaryotes attached to surfaces. The phylogenetic placement of ancyromonads is poorly understood (in 2020), however some phylogenetic analyses place them as close relatives of malawimonads.[18]


Origin of the EukaryotesEdit

The conventional explanation for the origin of the Eukaryotes is that a heimdallarchaeian[19] or another Archaea acquired an alphaproteobacterium as an endosymbiont, and that this became the mitochondrion, the organelle providing oxidative respiration to the eukaryotic cell. Caesar al Jewari and Sandra Baldauf argue instead that the Eukaryotes possibly started with an endosymbiosis event of a deltaproteobacterium or gammaproteobacterium, accounting for the otherwise unexplained presence of anaerobic bacterial enzymes in metamonada in this scenario. The sister of the Preaxostyla within Metamonada represents the rest of the Eukaryotes which acquired a alphaproteobacterium.[17]


In 2023, using molecular phylogenetic analysis of 186 taxa, Al Jewari and Baldauf proposed a phylogenetic tree with the metamonad Parabasalia as basal Eukaryotes. Discoba and the rest of the Eukaryota appear to have emerged as sister taxon to the Preaxostyla, incorporating a single alphaproteobacterium as mitochondria by endosymbiosis. Thus the Fornicata are more closely related to e.g. animals than to Parabasalia. The rest of the Eukaryotes emerged within the Excavata as sister of the Discoba.[17]









Euglenozoa and allies


Amorphea (inc. animals, fungi)


Archaeplastida (inc. plants)


See alsoEdit




  1. ^ Hampl, V.; Hug, L.; Leigh, J. W.; Dacks, J. B.; Lang, B. F.; Simpson, A. G. B.; Roger, A. J. (2009). "Phylogenomic analyses support the monophyly of Excavata and resolve relationships among eukaryotic "supergroups"". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 106 (10): 3859–3864. Bibcode:2009PNAS..106.3859H. doi:10.1073/pnas.0807880106. PMC 2656170. PMID 19237557.
  2. ^ a b Hampl V, Hug L, Leigh JW, et al. (2009). "Phylogenomic analyses support the monophyly of Excavata and resolve relationships among eukaryotic "supergroups"". Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 106 (10): 3859–64. Bibcode:2009PNAS..106.3859H. doi:10.1073/pnas.0807880106. PMC 2656170. PMID 19237557.
  3. ^ a b Simpson, Ag; Inagaki, Y; Roger, Aj (2006). "Comprehensive multigene phylogenies of excavate protists reveal the evolutionary positions of "primitive" eukaryotes". Molecular Biology and Evolution. 23 (3): 615–25. doi:10.1093/molbev/msj068. PMID 16308337.
  4. ^ a b Simpson, Alastair G.B.; Patterson, David J. (Dec 1999). "The ultrastructure of Carpediemonas membranifera (Eukaryota) with reference to the 'excavate hypothesis'". European Journal of Protistology. 35 (4): 353–370. doi:10.1016/S0932-4739(99)80044-3.
  5. ^ a b c Simpson, Alastair G.B. (2003-11-01). "Cytoskeletal organization, phylogenetic affinities and systematics in the contentious taxon Excavata (Eukaryota)". International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology. 53 (6): 1759–1777. doi:10.1099/ijs.0.02578-0. PMID 14657103.
  6. ^ a b Dawkins, Richard; Wong, Yan (2016). The Ancestor's Tale. ISBN 978-0544859937.
  7. ^ a b c Cavalier-Smith, T (2002). "The phagotrophic origin of eukaryotes and phylogenetic classification of Protozoa". International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology. 52 (2): 297–354. doi:10.1099/00207713-52-2-297. PMID 11931142.
  8. ^ Dawson, Scott C; Paredez, Alexander R (2013). "Alternative cytoskeletal landscapes: cytoskeletal novelty and evolution in basal excavate protists". Current Opinion in Cell Biology. 25 (1): 134–141. doi:10.1016/j.ceb.2012.11.005. PMC 4927265. PMID 23312067.
  9. ^ Adl SM, Bass D, Lane CE, et al. (January 2019). "Revisions to the Classification, Nomenclature, and Diversity of Eukaryotes". The Journal of Eukaryotic Microbiology. 66 (1): 4–119. doi:10.1111/jeu.12691. PMC 6492006. PMID 30257078.
  10. ^ Brown, MW; Heiss, AA; Kamikawa, R; Inagaki, Y; Yabuki, A; Tice, AK; Shiratori, T; Ishida, KI; Hashimoto, T; Simpson, AGB; Roger, AJ (1 February 2018). "Phylogenomics Places Orphan Protistan Lineages in a Novel Eukaryotic Super-Group". Genome Biology and Evolution. 10 (2): 427–433. doi:10.1093/gbe/evy014. PMC 5793813. PMID 29360967.
  11. ^ Heiss, Aaron A.; Kolisko, Martin; Ekelund, Fleming; Brown, Matthew W.; Roger, Andrew J.; Simpson, Alastair G. B. (4 April 2018). "Combined morphological and phylogenomic re-examination of malawimonads, a critical taxon for inferring the evolutionary history of eukaryotes". Royal Society Open Science. 5 (4): 171707. Bibcode:2018RSOS....571707H. doi:10.1098/rsos.171707. PMC 5936906. PMID 29765641.
  12. ^ Keeling, PJ; Burki, F (19 August 2019). "Progress towards the Tree of Eukaryotes". Current Biology. 29 (16): R808–R817. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2019.07.031. PMID 31430481.
  13. ^ Laura Wegener Parfrey; Erika Barbero; Elyse Lasser; Micah Dunthorn; Debashish Bhattacharya; David J Patterson; Laura A Katz (December 2006). "Evaluating support for the current classification of eukaryotic diversity". PLOS Genetics. 2 (12): e220. doi:10.1371/JOURNAL.PGEN.0020220. ISSN 1553-7390. PMC 1713255. PMID 17194223. Wikidata Q21090155.
  14. ^ Tice, Alexander K.; Žihala, David; Pánek, Tomáš; Jones, Robert E.; Salomaki, Eric D.; Nenarokov, Serafim; Burki, Fabien; Eliáš, Marek; Eme, Laura; Roger, Andrew J.; Rokas, Antonis; Shen, Xing-Xing; Strassert, Jürgen F. H.; Kolísko, Martin; Brown, Matthew W. (2021). "PhyloFisher: A phylogenomic package for resolving eukaryotic relationships". PLOS Biology. 19 (8): e3001365. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.3001365. PMC 8345874. PMID 34358228.
  15. ^ Naiara Rodríguez-Ezpeleta; Henner Brinkmann; Gertraud Burger; Andrew J. Roger; Michael W. Gray; Hervé Philippe & B. Franz Lang (2007). "Toward Resolving the Eukaryotic Tree: The Phylogenetic Positions of Jakobids and Cercozoans". Curr. Biol. 17 (16): 1420–1425. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2007.07.036. PMID 17689961.
  16. ^ Bui, E T; Bradley, P J; Johnson, P J (1996-09-03). "A common evolutionary origin for mitochondria and hydrogenosomes". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 93 (18): 9651–9656. doi:10.1073/pnas.93.18.9651. ISSN 0027-8424. PMC 38483. PMID 8790385.
  17. ^ a b c Al Jewari, Caesar; Baldauf, Sandra L. (2023-04-28). "An excavate root for the eukaryote tree of life". Science Advances. 9 (17): eade4973. doi:10.1126/sciadv.ade4973. ISSN 2375-2548. PMC 10146883. PMID 37115919.
  18. ^ Brown, Matthew W; Heiss, Aaron A; Kamikawa, Ryoma; Inagaki, Yuji; Yabuki, Akinori; Tice, Alexander K; Shiratori, Takashi; Ishida, Ken-Ichiro; Hashimoto, Tetsuo; Simpson, Alastair; Roger, Andrew (2018-01-19). "Phylogenomics Places Orphan Protistan Lineages in a Novel Eukaryotic Super-Group". Genome Biology and Evolution. 10 (2): 427–433. doi:10.1093/gbe/evy014. PMC 5793813. PMID 29360967.
  19. ^ a b Eme, Laura; Tamarit, Daniel; Caceres, Eva F.; et al. (2023-03-09). "Inference and reconstruction of the heimdallarchaeial ancestry of eukaryotes". bioRxiv. pp. 2023.03.07.531504. doi:10.1101/2023.03.07.531504v1.

External linksEdit