Volvox 2015: me and my horsy and a quart of beer


Licensed to Ill

When I was a senior in high school, I gave my friend Arthur Malpere a ride to school in my ’77 MGB just about every day (well, every day it was running). I had a cassette of the then fairly new Licensed to Ill, and Art insisted that we listen to it every damn day. The ride to school was on the order of ten minutes, so we would listen to ten minutes on the way to school, then pick up where we left off, usually mid-song, on the way home (for those of you too young to remember cassettes, it wasn’t trivial to return to the beginning of a song). Of all the outstanding songs on that album, possibly my favorite was “Paul Revere,” a sort of old-west style automythology of the band’s origin (in spite of the casual misogyny, I still do like it pretty well).

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Volvox 2015: cell differentiation

One of the most studied aspects of Volvox development is the differentiation of its 2000 or so cells into two types: a few (usually 12-16) large reproductive cells (germ) and the rest small, biflagellate cells that provide motility (soma). The main genes controlling this differentiation have long been known, but the details of how they work are still being worked out.

Erik Hanschen (left) with Cristian Solari, David Smith, and Jillian Walker

Erik Hanschen (left) with Cristian Solari, David Smith, and Jillian Walker

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Volvox 2015: hunting the wild Volvox

We spent Wednesday afternoon sampling some ponds around Cambridge, looking for Volvox and related algae. Dr. Hisayoshi Nozaki, whose lab has described a substantial proportion of the known species, led the effort, but somehow we failed to locate our quarry.


Thomas Pröschold checking an algae-filled pond.

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Volvox 2015: all about sex

I believe that sex is one of the most beautiful, natural, wholesome things that money can buy.

–Steve Martin

Volvox, and the volvocine algae in general, are well known as a model system for the evolution of multicellularity and cellular differentiation, but they are also an outstanding model for the evolution of sex and mating types. Volvocine algae are facultatively sexual, with haploid vegetative colonies reproducing asexually through mitosis but occasionally entering a sexual cycle that usually results in a diploid, desiccation-resistant zygote or ‘spore.’ Most of the small colonial species and unicellular relatives are isogamous, that is, the gametes are of equal size. Nevertheless, each species has two self-incompatible mating types, usually designated as ‘plus’ and ‘minus.’ In some of the larger species, the gametes have diverged into a small, motile form that we call sperm and a large, often immotile form that we call eggs. Across the eukaryotic domain, it is gamete size, not form of genitalia, fancy plumage, or receding hairline, that define males and females.

The volvocine algae span a wide range of mating systems, making them a useful (and I think underutilized) system for comparative studies of the evolution of sex. As I’ve already mentioned, both isogamous (equal-sized gametes) and oogamous (sperm and eggs) species exist, and there is good reason to suspect that oogamy has evolved independently in two separate lineages:

Isogamy and oogamy

Isogamy and oogamy (Kirk 2006. Curr. Biol., 16:R1028.)

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Volvox 2015

Today is day one of the Third International Volvox Conference in Cambridge, U.K. I arrived yesterday via Chicago, Ottowa, and a bus from Heathrow. Apparently there is a direct flight from Chicago to Heathrow; why I didn’t take that is a mystery. The accommodations at Wychfield are quite comfortable, although many of us have had the usual troubles figuring out English plumbing.

Last night was a pub dinner with half or so of the attendees; I had some very good fish & chips (good, but not as good as Go Fish).

Pub dinner with Stephanie Höhn, one of the organizers, in the foreground.

Pub dinner with Stephanie Höhn, one of the organizers, in the foreground.

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An Ode to Unicellularity

Biosphere 2

Biosphere 2, the site of the First International Volvox Meeting in 2011.

This year’s Volvox meeting, as with the previous two, will feature an image/video/arts competition. Erik Hanschen, a graduate student in the Michod lab, has kindly granted me permission to post the winning entry in the poetry contest at the first Volvox meeting: a sonnet in honor of Chlamydomonas.

An Ode to Unicellularity – Erik Hanschen

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Volvox 2015 poster deadline extended

The deadline for poster abstracts for the Third International Volvox Conference has been extended to July 25th (the website says June 25th, but the organizers assure me that it is July). Registration is open until July 15th, so there is still time if you’d like to join us in Cambridge!

The preliminary program is here.

Volvox 2015: early registration deadline extended

Hey slackers,

If you procrastinated on registering for the Third International Volvox Meeting, you’ve been granted a reprieve: the early registration deadline has been extended to the end of May.  After that, it goes up by £50 (around $80). This has been a great meeting in the past, and this year promises to be even better. The conference kicks off with a collecting trip and includes sessions on life cycles, development, biophysics, evolution and ecology, genetics, phylogenetics and taxonomy, and genomics (program). At £250 for regular registration including accommodation (£180 for students and postdocs), this is a great deal. So if you can use an extra $80, go ahead and register before the end of May.

Here is a pdf version of the meeting poster.

Congratulations to Maggie Boyd!

2015 UMCUR award winners with UM President Royce Engstrom.

2015 UMCUR award winners with UM President Royce Engstrom.

Undergraduate Maggie Boyd has been awarded the Life Sciences Poster Award in the University of Montana Conference for Undergraduate Research for her poster “Motility in Chlamydomonas reinhardtii.” This is kind of a big deal: only one poster award and one oral presentation award were bestowed in Life Sciences university-wide.

Maggie has also recently been awarded a Honerkamp-Smith Travel Grant to attend the Third International Volvox Meeting in Cambridge, U.K. this summer.