I was in Canada

I have been disloyal to the fierce roller. After grad school, I stepped away from Volvox for a couple of years to do a postdoc with Michael Doebeli at the University of British Columbia. I thought I was going to transition to mathematical modeling, and Dr. Doebeli and I did do a bit of that together. I also got my first exposure to next-generation sequencing in his lab. I eventually returned to the fold, but during my time in Canada I wasn’t paying much attention to the Volvox world.

As a result, I missed Jerry Coyne’s coverage of the Volvox genome, which was published in 2010, just as I was discovering Jericho Beach, enjoying cheap sushi, and struggling to understand adaptive dynamics.

What does it take to become multicellular?

The authors’ conclusion?  Not many new genes have to change to turn a single cell into a multicellular, proto-differentiated species.  In the Science news piece on this article, plant biologist Arthur Grossman comments: “The findings suggest that it doesn’t take very large changes in gene content to transition from a single-cell to a multicellular lifestyle.”

Is this surprising? Well, not really.  I’m not sure most biologists would have suggested that multicellularity requires a wholesale restructuring of the types of proteins present in one-celled species.  If that were true, it would be very difficult to go from one-cell to multi-cells in an adaptive, step-by-step fashion..  I would have thought that changes in protein sequence (not type) were important and, perhaps, changes in how genes are used—how they are turned on and off, and when.

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