The peroxisome is a metabolic compartment serving for the rapid oxidation of substrates, a process that is not coupled to energy conservation. In plants and algae, peroxisomes connect biosynthetic and oxidative metabolic routes and compartmentalize potentially lethal steps of metabolism such as the formation of reactive oxygen species and glyoxylate, thus preventing poisoning of the cell and futile recycling. Peroxisomes exhibit properties resembling inside-out vesicles and possess special systems for the import of specific proteins, which form multi-enzyme complexes (metabolons) linking numerous reactions to flavin-dependent oxidation, coupled to the decomposition of hydrogen peroxide by catalase. Hydrogen peroxide and superoxide originating in peroxisomes are important mediators in signal transduction pathways, particularly those involving salicylic acid. By contributing to the synthesis of oxalate, formate and other organic acids, peroxisomes regulate major fluxes of primary and secondary metabolism. The evolutionary diversity of algae has led to the presence of a wide range of enzymes in the peroxisomes that acre only similar to higher plants in their direct predecessors, the Charophyceae. The appearance of seed plants was connected to the acquirement by storage tissues, of a peroxisomal fatty acid oxidation function linked to the glyoxylate cycle, which is induced during seed germination and maturation. Rearrangement of the peroxisomal photorespiratory function between different tissues of higher plants led to the appearance of different types of photosynthetic metabolism. The peroxisome may therefore have played a key role in the evolutionary formation of metabolic networks, via establishing interconnections between different metabolic compartments. (C) 2002 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.