Please stop calling them pond scum

Gonium pectorale. Credit: Kansas State University.

Gonium pectorale. Credit: Kansas State University.

Yes, they live in ponds; no they don’t form any kind of scum. The press release from Kansas State on the Gonium genome paper, which is reprinted here, here, and here, is titled “Pond scum and the gene pool: One critical gene in green algae responsible for multicellular evolution, understanding of cancer origin.” Gonium forms planktonic colonies of (usually) 8, 16, or 32 cells that swim under their own power and exhibit phototaxis (they’ll swim toward a light source). They are not pond scum. ‘Algae’ and ‘pond scum’ are not synonyms, dig? Leaving aside the distinction between algae and cyanobacteria, calling Gonium pond scum is like saying pineapples are lemons (because both are fruits).

Also…cancer origin, really? You went there? The word ‘cancer’ does not appear in the paper except in the funding acknowledgements (Bradley Olson is partly funded by the KSU Johnson Cancer Center).

Heads I win; tails you lose: Evolution News & Views on Gonium, part 2: Model systems and gene duplication

Figure 2 from Hanschen et al. 2016. (a) Predicted number of genes in each phylostratum (PS1–PS9) for Chlamydomonas, Gonium and Volvox. (b) Heatmap of transcription factor abundance for all green algae. Significant over- (+) and under-representation (−) in colonial/multicellular lineages (Gonium and Volvox) is denoted (G test of independence, α=0.05). Rows are clustered (left), an accepted phylogeny is depicted (top). (c) Phylogenetic analysis of gene family evolution. Bars to the left and right of the vertical axis denote the lost and gained gene families respectively, relative to its parental node. (d) Venn diagram of the species distribution of Pfam A domains unique to the volvocine algae.

Figure 2 from Hanschen et al. 2016. (a) Predicted number of genes in each phylostratum (PS1–PS9) for Chlamydomonas, Gonium and Volvox. (b) Heatmap of transcription factor abundance for all green algae. Significant over- (+) and under-representation (−) in colonial/multicellular lineages (Gonium and Volvox) is denoted (G test of independence, α=0.05). Rows are clustered (left), an accepted phylogeny is depicted (top). (c) Phylogenetic analysis of gene family evolution. Bars to the left and right of the vertical axis denote the lost and gained gene families respectively, relative to its parental node. (d) Venn diagram of the species distribution of Pfam A domains unique to the volvocine algae.

Erik Hanschen, the lead author on the Gonium genome paper, is also an old friend of mine from when we were both in Michael Doebeli’s lab at the University of British Columbia. He kindly agreed to write a guest post responding to Evolution News and Views‘ misunderstandings of his paper. Everything below the fold was written by Erik:

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Heads I win; tails you lose: Evolution News & Views on Gonium, part 1

Figure 6 from Hanschen et al. 2016. Multicellularity hinges on the evolution of cell cycle regulation in a multicellular context with subsequent evolution of cellular differentiation (here, cell size-based) and increased body size.

Figure 6 from Hanschen et al. 2016. Multicellularity hinges on the evolution of cell cycle regulation in a multicellular context with subsequent evolution of cellular differentiation (here, cell size-based) and increased body size.

Remember how I said they’re prolific? Before I’ve even had a chance to write up my thoughts on the Gonium genome paperEvolution News & Views has already published theirs. The story has also been picked up by the Washington PostNew HistorianGenNews, and ScienceDaily (that last one looks like just a reprint of the press release from University of the Witwatersrand). By the way, the genome paper is open access, so you don’t need a subscription to see it for yourself.

We already know that cdesign proponentsists are not fans of research into the evolution of multicellularity, and that they have trouble understanding it. In an unsigned article on the Gonium genome at ENV, they admit that

After reading this paper, we’re none the wiser.

That’s too bad. I’m here to help.

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Gonium genome published

Figure 1 from Hanschen et al. 2016. (a) Evolution of cell cycle control (C), expanded ECM (E) and somatic cells (S) are denoted. (b) Micrographs of Chlamydomonas (green; scale bar, 10 μm), Gonium (blue; scale bar, 10 μm) and Volvox (black; scale bar, 25 μm) show morphological differences.

Figure 1 from Hanschen et al. 2016. (a) Evolution of cell cycle control (C), expanded ECM (E) and somatic cells (S) are denoted. (b) Micrographs of Chlamydomonas (green; scale bar, 10 μm), Gonium (blue; scale bar, 10 μm) and Volvox (black; scale bar, 25 μm) show morphological differences.

I haven’t read it yet and won’t have time today, but the Gonium pectorale genome paper just came out in Nature Communications! Erik Hanschen is the lead author, and the article is open access. I previously reported on Erik’s talk at Volvox 2015:

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Time for a revision? Maureen O’Malley and Russell Powell on Major Transitions, part 1

The so-called ‘Major Transitions’ framework is an attempt to explain the hierarchical structure of life on Earth: genes within chromosomes, chromosomes within cells, cells within cells (eukaryotic cells), individuals within sexual partnerships, cells within multicellular organisms, and organisms within societies. The best-known attempt to unify the origins of these relationships is a book by John Maynard Smith* and Eörs SzathmáryThe Major Transitions in Evolution.

MajorTransitionsCover

First published in 1995, the book focused on the origins of these hierarchical levels, connecting them with the unifying theme that

…entities that were capable of independent replication before the transition can replicate only as part of a larger whole after it.

For example, after a transition from unicellular to multicellular organisms (there were several), cellular reproduction either contributes to the growth of the organism or to production of new multicellular organisms.

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Pleodorina starrii

32- and 64-celled colonies of Pleodorina starrii.

32- and 64-celled colonies of Pleodorina starrii. Not to scale. Creative Commons License
Pleodorina starrii by Matthew Herron is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

I spent a year in graduate school trying to cross male and female strains of the volvocine green alga Pleodorina californicaA year. I did some other stuff in that time, but I spent an awful lot of it trying to convince these algae to get busy. I threw everything I could think of at them: four different mating media, different temperatures, different lighting conditions…nothing worked. I never recovered a single viable zygote. I needed to cross them to generate some genetic variation for an ambitious artificial selection study, my ‘official’ dissertation project. Eventually, my advisor suggested I ask Hisayoshi Nozaki for advice.

There is little doubt that Dr. Nozaki is the world’s leading expert on volvocine biodiversity, having described about half of the known species (see for example New Volvox SpeciesVolvox ovalis, and African Volvox in Montana). He responded that the strains of Pleodorina californica I had been failing to breed had been collected many years ago and had probably lost the ability to reproduce sexually (a problem I mentioned in Why don’t we revise volvocine taxonomy?). I had been spinning my wheels, never realizing that I had no hope of success. I should have contacted Dr. Nozaki about eleven months earlier.

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Volvox meeting review online early

Fig. 1 from Herron 2016. Examples of volvocine species. (A) Chlamydomonas reinhardtii, (B) Gonium pectorale, (C) Astrephomene gubernaculiferum, (D) Pan- dorina morum, (E) Volvulina compacta, (F) Platydorina caudata, (G) Yamagishiella unicocca, (H) Colemanosphaera charkowiensis, (I) Eudorina elegans, (J) Pleodorina starrii, (K) Volvox barberi, (L) Volvox ovalis, (M) Volvox gigas, (N) Volvox aureus, (O) Volvox carteri. Figure Credit for A and B: Deborah Shelton.

Fig. 1 from Herron 2016. Examples of volvocine species. (A) Chlamydomonas reinhardtii, (B) Gonium pectorale, (C) Astrephomene gubernaculiferum, (D) Pandorina morum, (E) Volvulina compacta, (F) Platydorina caudata, (G) Yamagishiella unicocca, (H) Colemanosphaera charkowiensis, (I) Eudorina elegans, (J) Pleodorina starrii, (K) Volvox barberi, (L) Volvox ovalis, (M) Volvox gigas, (N) Volvox aureus, (O) Volvox carteri. Figure Credit for A and B: Deborah Shelton.

Pretty much what the title says: the meeting review from Volvox 2015 is online early at Molecular Ecology. That only took six months! This is the final, published version. Thanks for a great meeting, and thanks to everyone who read earlier drafts!

Levels of selection in biofilms: Ellen Clarke on individuality

Pseudomonas biofilm. From Spiers et al. 2013.

Pseudomonas biofilm. From Spiers et al. 2013.

The question of what constitutes a biological individual is intimately entangled with questions about levels of selection. Many authors implicitly or explicitly treat individuals as units of evolution or some variation on this theme. A recent appreciation for the complexity of bacterial biofilms has led to comparisons with multicellular organisms. A recent paper by Ellen Clarke bucks this trend by claiming that multispecies biofilms are not evolutionary individuals.

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The flip side of the Galileo Gambit: Denyse O’Leary on multicellularity

Figure 7 from Anderson et al. 2016. Evolution of GKPID’s new function by unveiling a latent protein-binding site. (A) The binding surface for Pins in GKPIDs is derived from the GMP-binding surface of gk enzymes. Homology models of Anc-gkdup (left) and Anc-GK1PID (right) are shown as white surface, with all side chains that contact either GMP or Pins as yellow sticks. Pink sticks show GMP; green ribbon shows Pins backbone, with the side chains of all Pins residues that contact the GK protein shown as sticks. The phosphate group on GMP and on Pins residue 436 are shown as orange and red sticks. Black dotted lines, protein-ligand hydrogen bonds. In the AncGK1PID structure , substitutions at sites in the binding interface are shaded red, including key substitution s36P. The binding modes of extant gk enzymes and GKPIDs are similar and support the same conclusions (see Figure 7—figure supplement 1). (B) The structure of the hinge and GMP/Pins-binding lobes is conserved between the Pins-bound GKPID (blue, rat Dlg, 3UAT), the apo-gk enzyme (brown, S. cerevisiae guanylate kinase 1EX6), and the apo-gk-s36P mutant (gray, 4F4J), all in the open conformation.

Figure 7 from Anderson et al. 2016. Evolution of GKPID’s new function by unveiling a latent protein-binding site. (A) The binding surface for Pins in GKPIDs is derived from the GMP-binding surface of gk enzymes. Homology models of Anc-gkdup (left) and Anc-GK1PID (right) are shown as white surface, with all side chains that contact either GMP or Pins as yellow sticks. In the AncGK1PID structure , substitutions at sites in the binding interface are shaded red, including key substitution s36P. (B) The structure of the hinge and GMP/Pins-binding lobes is conserved between the Pins-bound GKPID (blue, rat Dlg, 3UAT), the apo-gk enzyme (brown, S. cerevisiae guanylate kinase 1EX6), and the apo-gk-s36P mutant (gray, 4F4J), all in the open conformation.

Cdesign proponentsists really don’t seem to like research on the evolution of multicellularity. Pretty much any time real scientists learn something new about the origins of multicellularity, writers on intelligent design blogs Evolution News & Views and Uncommon Descent feel compelled to tell us why it’s wrong (for example, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here).

So I shouldn’t be surprised that Denyse O’Leary has weighed in on the latest work out of Ken Prehoda’s lab, in which Prehoda and colleagues identified a mutation crucial for forming and maintaining tissues in animals. Worse, from O’Leary’s point of view, the article describes the evolution of a new protein function, which is anathema to intelligent design thinkers. To say this post is badly argued is overly generous; it’s absolutely devoid of any substantive argument.

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Volvox 2015 meeting review available online

Fig. 1 from Herron 2016. Examples of volvocine species. A: Chlamydomonas reinhardtii, B: Gonium pectorale, C: Astrephomene gubernaculiferum, D: Pandorina morum, E: Volvulina compacta, F: Platydorina caudata, G: Yamagishiella unicocca, H: Colemanosphaera charkowiensis, I: Eudorina elegans, J: Pleodorina starrii, K: Volvox barberi, L: Volvox ovalis, M: Volvox gigas, N: Volvox aureus, O: Volvox carteri.

Fig. 1 from Herron 2016. Examples of volvocine species. A: Chlamydomonas reinhardtii, B: Gonium pectorale, C: Astrephomene gubernaculiferum, D: Pandorina morum, E: Volvulina compacta, F: Platydorina caudata, G: Yamagishiella unicocca, H: Colemanosphaera charkowiensis, I: Eudorina elegans, J: Pleodorina starrii, K: Volvox barberi, L: Volvox ovalis, M: Volvox gigas, N: Volvox aureus, O: Volvox carteri. A and B by Deborah Shelton.

The meeting review for the Third International Volvox Conference is now available online at Molecular Ecology (doi: 10.1111/mec.13551). The editors warned me ahead of time that the challenge for this paper would be to make it of broad interest to the readership of Molecular Ecology, so there is a lot of background information that will be old news to members of the Volvox community.

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