A is for Algae

I got my copy of Jillian Freese’s A is for Algae earlier this week. Freese, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Rhode Island, says the book is “Part birthday gift. Part #scicomm. Part stress relief.” It’s full of watercolor paintings of algae, mostly seaweeds but with some phytoplankton as well. Each species (one for each letter of the alphabet) is presented with its scientific name, usually a common name, habitat and biogeographic information, and some interesting factoids.A is for Algae

Warning: spoilers below the fold.

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Everything Flows

Everything Flows cover

Process philosophy has really just recently come on my radar, and I’m not sure what to make of it. I have written before that I don’t have a particularly strong background in philosophy, and so I’m hesitant to judge what I may not understand. At least some of the descriptions I’ve seen strike me as quasi-mystical word salads:

In short, a becoming actual entity prehends, or “feels,” not only other, past actual entities (which may be seen as the metaphysical basis for causality wherein one entity becomes part of another entity’s formation process), but also eternal objects (i.e., “pure possibilities”), which introduces novelty into the process. –Lukasz Lamza in Nature Alive – Essays on the Emergence and Evolution of Living Agents

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Waltzing Volvox

I can’t believe I haven’t already blogged about this, but if I have it isn’t turning up in my searches. Ravi Balasubramanian’s preprint about “flocking” behavior in Volvox barberi mentioned that

V[olvox] carteri is capable of using fluid forces created by flagellar beating to form waltzing pairs.

He’s referring to a 2009 paper by Knut Drescher and colleagues in Physical Review Letters. Drescher and colleagues analyzed the physics that cause Volvox colonies to enter a hydrodynamically bound state in which two or more spheroids orbit each other in close proximity:

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Alternative patterns of explanation for major transitions

The Major Transitions in Evolution Revisited

One reason to study green algae is because they can teach us something about the evolution of multicellularity. A number of related species in the Volvocalean family form a gradation of complexity between single-celled and simple multicellular organisms. The members of this family of algae differ in size, the number of cells they produce, and whether or not there is a split between germline and somatic cells. This split is thought to be central to understanding how a new level of individuality has evolved. — Calcott 2011, p. 39.

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Extreme variation in male Volvox carteri from Taiwan

Nozaki et al. 2018 Fig. 1 A-D

Figure 1 a-d from Nozaki et al. 2018. Light microscopy of asexual spheroids in Taiwanese strains of Volvox carteri f. nagariensis. a Surface view of a spheroid showing undivided gonidia (G). 2016‐tw‐nuk‐6‐1. b Optical section of a spheroid in (a) with gonidia (G). c Surface view of spheroid. Note no cytoplasmic bridges between somatic cells. 2016‐tw‐nuk‐6‐1. d Surface view of spheroid showing individual sheaths of the gelatinous matrix. Stained with methylene blue. 2016‐tw‐nuk‐8‐1. e Optical section of gonidium. 2016‐tw‐nuk‐6‐1. f, g Pre‐inversion plakea or embryo (E) showing gonidia (G) of the next generation outside. 2016‐tw‐nuk‐8‐1.

Most of what we know about the developmental genetics of Volvox comes from the Eve strain of Volvox carteri forma nagariensis, which was collected by Richard Starr from Kobe, Japan in 1967. Eve is the strain that David Kirk and colleagues used for most of their experiments and from which most of the important developmental mutants are derived.

It’s natural, then, to think that Eve is representative of V. carteri f. nagariensis and that what’s true for Eve is generally true for this forma. Recent work from Hisayoshi Nozaki and colleagues shows that, at least in one respect, this is a bad approximation.

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Volvox on Micropia

Volvox (Micropia)

Image from www.micropia.nl/en/discover/microbiology/volvox/

Micropia, the museum of microbes in Amsterdam, has a page devoted to Volvox:

Ponds and ditches are not only home to unicellular green algae, but also to multicellular forms.

Some ‘colonies’ are nothing more than a mass of single cells all doing exactly the same thing, but with the spherical volvox it’s a slightly different story. Here different cells have specialised and work together. All the cells are located on the outside of the sphere. There are cells with flagella (whip-like hairs) to help the colony move around and cells which are responsible for reproduction.

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Nicole Haloupek on germ-soma differentiation

Volvox carteri

Volvox carteri by Gavriel Matt & James Umen.

Back in December, I wrote about two studies that compared global patterns of gene expression between germ cells and somatic cells in Volvox carteri, one by Benjamin Klein, Daniel Wibberg and Armin Hallmann from the University of Bielefeld in Germany and one by Gavriel Matt and Jim Umen from Washington University in St. Louis and the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, respectively. The Matt & Umen paper has also been highlighted on the Genetics Society of America blog, Genes to Genomes.

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Origins of the sexes: more on MID

Last week, I wrote about Takashi Hamaji’s new paper characterizing the mating-type/sex-determining loci in Eudorina and Yamagishiella. That paper showed that the sex-determining region of anisogamous Eudorina is, surprisingly, considerably smaller than the mating-type loci of isogamous ChlamydomonasGonium, or Yamagishiella. Because only one gene, MID, is present in the male version of the sex-determining region in Eudorina, Hamaji and colleagues concluded that

…the evolution of males in volvocine algae might have resulted from altered function of the sex-determining protein MID or its target genes.

I commented that

…we’re still left with two (non-mutually exclusive) possibilities: changes to the MID gene itself may have changed which genes it interacts with (or how it interacts), or there may have been changes in the genes whose expression is controlled by MID.

Now Sa Geng and colleagues have provided at least a partial answer. In a new paper in Development, they swapped versions of MID among different volvocine species (unfortunately, no unpaywalled version of the paper is currently available; I will add a link when I find one). We already knew that MID is necessary and sufficient for male development: genetically male Volvox carteri colonies that have MID expression turned off produce eggs, and genetically female colonies transformed with MID produce sperm packets (“Sex change (in Volvox)”). But that’s MID from the same species. It’s somewhat surprising that a single gene can cause Volvox to switch sexes, but at least Volvox MID evolved side-by-side with the genes whose expression it controls.

What would be really surprising is if MID from other species, species that diverged from the Volvox lineage ~200 million years ago, worked in Volvox. It would be extraordinarily surprising if MID from a species that doesn’t even have males  could control their development in Volvox. It won’t work. Waste of time; don’t bother trying.

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