Scientists Watch Single Cell Organisms Evolve Multicellular Trait in Response to Predation

Posted on February 24, 2019  Comments (0)

The scientists used the ciliate predator Paramecium tetraurelia to select for the de novo evolution of multicellularity in outcrossed populations of C. reinhardtii. They show that multicellular life cycles that evolved were passed on to future generations (the change was heritable). The evolved multicellular life cycles are stable over thousands of asexual generations in the absence of predators. Because C. reinhardtii has no multicellular ancestors, these experiments represent a novel origin of multicellularity.

De novo origins of multicellularity in response to predation

Here we show that de novo origins of simple multicellularity can evolve in response to predation. We subjected outcrossed populations of the unicellular green alga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii to selection by the filter-feeding predator Paramecium tetraurelia. Two of five experimental populations evolved multicellular structures not observed in unselected control populations within ~750 asexual generations.

The control populations remained unicellular. The populations subjected to predation evolved in different ways including one that formed stereotypic eight-celled clusters (Fig. 1A), with an apparent unicellular and tetrad life stage.

electron microscope images of multicellular colonies from evolved populations

Scanning electron micrographs of representative multicellular colonies from evolved populations. (A) Shows an amorphous cluster from population B2. Cell number varies greatly between clusters in this clone and between clones in this population. (B) Shows an eight-celled cluster from population B5. Octads were frequently observed in both populations.

an external membrane is visible around both evolved multicellular colonies, indicating that they formed clonally via repeated cell division within the cluster, rather than via aggregation.

The article also provides details on the scientific inquiry process where theory meets practical realities of observation. I think these ideas are very important and we often gloss over such details. This article was shared as an open access article and is written so that those who are interested in science but are not scientists can understand, which is a valuable. The research was funded by USA National Science Foundation, the John Templeton Foundation, the NASA Astrobiology Institute, a NASA Postdoctoral Program Fellowship and a Packard Foundation Fellowship. And the researchers work at public and private universities. Such research should all be published in an open access manner.

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