Cells, colonies, and clones: individuality in the volvocine algae

Biological Individuality

As I mentioned previously, I have a chapter in the newly published book Biological Individuality, Integrating Scientific, Philosophical, and Historical Perspectives. The chapter was actually written nearly five years ago, but things move more slowly in the philosophy world than that of biology. Finally, though, both the print and electronic versions are now available; here is the electronic version of my chapter. The book currently has no reviews on Amazon, so if you want to give it a read, yours could be the first. If you’re interested in current and historical views on individuality, there is a lot of good stuff in here, including contributions by Scott Lidgard & Lynn Nyhart, Beckett Sterner, Andrew Reynolds, Snait Gissis, Olivier Rieppel, Michael Osborne, Hannah Landecker, Ingo Brigandt, James Elwick, Scott Gilbert, and Alan Love & Ingo Brigandt.

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Volvox 2017: David Kirk will be there

David Kirk

Dr. David Kirk, Professor Emeritus at Washington University in St. Louis.

I just found out from Jim Umen, who’s organizing the Fourth International Volvox Conference, that David Kirk is planning to attend. This is great news; we’ve been wanting Dr. Kirk to come since the first meeting in 2011, but it hasn’t previously worked out.

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Volvox 2017: early registration extended

Volvox 2017

Discounted registration for the Volvox 2017 meeting has been extended to June 16th. This is a pretty good deal as scientific meetings go: $550 for faculty includes registration, most meals, and a shared room. Registration for postdocs and students is $100 less, and there are travel grants available. If you’ve been debating whether or not to go, it’s decision time: prices will go up $100 after the 16th.

Ehrenberg on Eudorina

Eudorina elegans, from Ehrenberg 1832.

Eudorina elegans, from Ehrenberg 1832.

Eudorina elegans was described by the German biologist Christian Gottfried Ehrenberg in his Lectures at the Academy of Sciences in Berlin in the years 18301836 (Vorträge in der Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Berlin im Jahre 1830-1836). With the help of Google Translate, here’s what he had to say about it (page 17):

I have also found an eye-shaped form in the family of the epigones, or of the mucous, intestinal infusoria, which have a hairy body. This form of infusoria is also undefined, but it is confused by me, and probably by all previous observers, with Pandorina Morum (Volvox Morum Müller); Less accurate observers also thought they were probably Volvox Globator. I found them in the basin of the animal garden in the spring of this year between conferences. It is quite consistent with the same form, as I see from my drawing made in the Ural, that the animal which I, as Pandorina Morum, from Kyschtym, have doubtless listed in my list of the Russian Infusoria, and I am of the opinion that I had at that time only overlooked the unsuspected eye. The body consists of a gelatinous, globule-shaped sphere, in which a certain number of spherical, green-colored animals are enclosed, each showing a beautiful red, round but small eye, and a simple, long, whirling, or supporting eyelash through the water. The whirling is seen very clearly as soon as a fine, turbid substance is added to the water. To this animal, which is one of the most beautiful infusoria, I have given the generic name Eudorina, in consideration of the closely related eyeless genus Pandorina. The only known species I have called Eudorina argus (beautiful green eye ball).

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New review of green algal sex

Hiroyuki Sekimoto from Japan Women’s University has published a review of sexual reproduction in the volvocine algae and in the Charophyte Closterium in the Journal of Plant Research. In addition to a brief description of the Chlamydomonas sexual cycle, it includes a succinct review of the genetics of sex and sex determination. Unfortunately, the article is paywalled, and my inquiry to the author has so far gone unanswered.

Figure 1 from Sekimoto 2017. The life cycle of Chlamydomonas reinhardtii. Vegetative cells (V) di erentiate into mt+ and mt− gametes (G) during nitrogen starvation (−N). Mating types are restricted by mating-type loci (+ and −). When gametes are mixed, the plus and minus agglutinin mol- ecules on their agellar surfaces adhere to each other, and this adhe- sion results in increased intracellular cAMP levels. The signal trig- gers gamete cell wall release and mating-structure activation. Cells then fuse to form binucleate quadri agellated cells. Zygotes with thick cell walls germinate in response to light and nitrogen supple- mentation, and undergo meiosis to release four haploid vegetative cells

Figure 1 from Sekimoto 2017. The life cycle of Chlamydomonas reinhardtii. Vegetative cells (V) differentiate into mt+ and mt− gametes (G) during nitrogen starvation (−N). Mating types are restricted by mating-type loci (+ and −). When gametes are mixed, the plus and minus agglutinin molecules on their flagellar surfaces adhere to each other, and this adhesion results in increased intracellular cAMP levels. The signal triggers gamete cell wall release and mating-structure activation. Cells then fuse to form binucleate quadriflagellated cells. Zygotes with thick cell walls germinate in response to light and nitrogen supplementation, and undergo meiosis to release four haploid vegetative cells.

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Algae porn

I track the #Volvox hashtag on Twitter, which is how I find out about a lot of the off-label uses of the name Volvox, like DJ VolvoxVolvox the ship, and Volvox the art gallery. Every now and then, it even turns up something related to Volvox the little rolling algae. The other day, @QuintaSwinger tweeted the following video with #Volvox:

The Twitter handle is about just what you think it is; apparently volvocine sex puts someone in mind of polyamory. I suppose I can see that: when a sperm packet enters a colony, it gets busy with all the ova. The video was uploaded to YouTube by Dr. Donald Ott from the University of Akron.

I think the algae in the video are not actually Volvox, though. Certainly the still photo at the beginning is Volvox. Probably not section Volvox (too few cells), and probably not Developmental Program 2 (germ cells too small in the one on the lower right). If I had to guess, I’d say V. aureus, but that’s largely a Bayesian bet because they’re so common. Maybe Alexey Desnitskiy or Hisayoshi Nozaki can comment.

The colonies in the video, though, look more like Pleodorina to me. Not P. sphaerica, since the somatic cells are all in the front, but without more information I can’t narrow it down more than that.