Pleodorina study featured on NAI website

My new paper in Evolutionary Ecology Research is currently featured on the NASA Astrobiology Institute website (“Algae Fitness and Multicellular Life“). This was the final chapter of my Ph.D. dissertation, and it describes an artificial selection experiment using Pleodorina starrii. The paper is co-authored by my Ph.D. advisor, Rick Michod, and two (then) undergraduates, Susma Ghimire and Conner Vinikoor.
Pleodorina starrii

A 32-celled colony of Pleodorina starrii with 12 somatic cells.

Pleodorina is considered “partially differentiated,” meaning that some of its cells are of the ancestral, undifferentiated type (like those of Eudorina) and some are differentiated as somatic cells. These somatic cells never grow much, and they never divide to form daughter colonies.

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The most important time in your life

The New York Times has picked up a recent article in Physical Review Letters by Stephanie Höhn and colleagues (Höhn, S., Honerkamp-Smith, A.R., Haas, P. a., Trong, P.K. and Goldstein, R.E. 2015. Dynamics of a Volvox embryo turning itself inside out. Phys. Rev. Lett., 114: 1–5. doi 10.1103/PhysRevLett.114.178101).

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Ann Gauger teaches us about Volvox, part 2

Last time, I criticized Ann Gauger’s Evolution News and Views article “A Simple Transition to Multicellularity — Not!” for asserting that the requirement for kinesins in Volvox inversion implied a requirement for novel genes in the evolution of multicellularity. In a similar vein, Dr. Gauger presents programmed cell death and sex as problems for this transition:
The somatic cells commit suicide by a process known as apoptosis — programmed cell death — that I wrote about here. This process involves a minimum of several novel genes as well.
Where does this assertion that programmed cell death in Volvox “involves a minimum of several novel genes” come from? Programmed cell death (PCD) occurs in many unicellular eukaryotes, including Chlamydomonas reinhardtii. Furthermore, two types of metacaspases, genes involved in PCD in many algae and plants, are found in both Chlamydomonas and Volvox.

Partial alignment of representative type I and type II metacaspase predicted sequences from red algae (Porphyra yezoensis; Py), green algae (Chlamydomonas reinhardtii, Cr; Volvox carteri, Vc), vascular plants (Arabidopsis thaliana; At), excavates (Trypanosoma cruzi, Tc; Leishmania braziliensis, Lb), diatoms (Thalassiosira pseudonana, Tp; Phaeodactylum tricornutum, Pt), haptophytes (Emiliania huxleyi; Eh), pelagophytes (Auroecoccus anaphagefferens; Aa), yeasts (Schizosaccharomyces pombe, Sp; Saccharomyces cerevisiae, Sc) showing the conservation of the cysteine-histidine dyad and the insertion characteristic of plant type II metacaspases. From Nedelcu, A.M. 2009. Comparative genomics of phylogenetically diverse unicellular eukaryotes provide new insights into the genetic basis for the evolution of the programmed cell death machinery. J. Mol. Evol., 68: 256–268. doi 10.1007/s00239-009-9201-1.

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Ann Gauger teaches us about Volvox, part 1

Over at Evolution News and Views (ENV), the blog for the Discovery Institute, Ann Gauger has a new article about Volvox (“A Simple Transition to Multicellularity — Not!”). This isn’t the first time ENV has weighed in on the evolution of multicellularity (see here and here, for example), but since their website doesn’t allow comments, this is the first time I’ve had a platform from which to respond.
The article starts out with a mostly accurate description of Volvox biology, although the description as
…among the simplest animals to have more than one cell type

is cringe-worthy: Volvox is no more an animal than is a tomato:


An accurate, if low-resolution, phylogeny.

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