Phospholipid biosynthetic enzymes produce diverse molecular structures and are often present in multiple forms encoded by different genes. This work utilizes comparative genomics and phylogenetics for exploring the distribution, structure and evolution of phospholipid biosynthetic genes and pathways in 26 eukaryotic genomes. Although the basic structure of the pathways was formed early in eukaryotic evolution, the emerging picture indicates that individual enzyme families followed unique evolutionary courses. For example, choline and ethanolamine kinases and cytidylyltransferases emerged in ancestral eukaryotes, whereas, multiple forms of the corresponding phosphatidyltransferases evolved mainly in a lineage specific manner. Furthermore, several unicellular eukaryotes maintain bacterial-type enzymes and reactions for the synthesis of phosphatidylglycerol and cardiolipin. Also, base-exchange phosphatidylserine synthases are widespread and ancestral enzymes. The multiplicity of phospholipid biosynthetic enzymes has been largely generated by gene expansion in a lineage specific manner. Thus, these observations suggest that phospholipid biosynthesis has been an actively evolving system. Finally, comparative genomic analysis indicates the existence of novel phosphatidyltransferases and provides a candidate for the uncharacterized eukaryotic phosphatidylglycerol phosphate phosphatase. (C) 2007 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.