To understand the hierarchy of life in evolutionary terms, we must explain why groups of one kind of individual, say cells, evolve into a new higher level individual, a multicellular organism. A fundamental step in this process is the division of labor into nonreproductive altruistic soma. The regA gene is critical for somatic differentiation in Volvox carteri, a multicellular species of volvocine algae. We report the sequence of regA-like genes and several syntenic markers from divergent species of Volvox. We show that regA evolved early in the volvocines and predict that lineages with and without soma descended from a regA-containing ancestor. We hypothesize an alternate evolutionary history of regA than the prevailing "proto-regA" hypothesis. The variation in presence of soma may be explained by multiple lineages independently evolving soma utilizing regA or alternate genetic pathways. Our prediction that the genetic basis for soma exists in species without somatic cells raises a number of questions, most fundamentally, under what conditions would species with the genetic potential for soma, and hence greater individuality, not evolve these traits. We conclude that the evolution of individuality in the volvocine algae is more complicated and labile than previously appreciated on theoretical grounds.
Programmed cell death (PCD) is an ancient phenomenon and its origin and maintenance in unicellular life is unclear. We report that programmed death provides differential fitness effects that are species specific in the model organism Chlamydomonas reinhardtii. Remarkably, PCD in this organism not only benefits others of the same species, but also has an inhibitory effect on the growth of other species. These data reveal that the fitness effects of PCD can depend upon genetic relatedness.
It has been argued that for certain lineages, noncoding DNA expansion is a consequence of the increased random genetic drift associated with long-term escalations in organism size. But a lack of data has prevented the investigation of this hypothesis in most plastid-bearing protists. Here, using newly sequenced mitochondrial and plastid genomes, we explore the relationship between organelle DNA noncoding content and organism size within volvocine green algae. By looking at unicellular, colonial, and differentiated multicellular algae, we show that organelle DNA complexity scales positively with species size and cell number across the volvocine lineage. Moreover, silent-site genetic diversity data suggest that the volvocine species with the largest cell numbers and most bloated organelle genomes have the smallest effective population sizes. Together, these findings support the view that nonadaptive processes, like random genetic drift, promote the expansion of noncoding regions in organelle genomes.
Programmed cell death (PCD), a genetically regulated cell suicide program, is ubiquitous in the living world. In contrast to multicellular organisms, in which cells cooperate for the good of the organism, in unicells the cell is the organism and PCD presents a fundamental evolutionary problem. Why should an organism actively kill itself as opposed to dying in a nonprogrammed way? Proposed arguments vary from PCD in unicells being maladaptive to the assumption that it is an extreme form of altruism. To test whether PCD could be beneficial to nearby cells, we induced programmed and nonprogrammed death in the unicellular green alga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii. Cellular contents liberated during non-PCD are detrimental to others, while the contents released during PCD are beneficial. The number of cells in growing cultures was used to measure fitness. Thermostability studies revealed that the beneficial effect of the PCD supernatant most likely involves simple heat-stable biomolecules. Non-PCD supernatant contains heat-sensitive molecules like cellular proteases and chlorophyll. These data indicate that the mode of death affects the origin and maintenance of PCD. The way in which an organism dies can have beneficial or deleterious effects on the fitness of its neighbors.
Arising from M. A. Nowak, C. E. Tarnita & E. O. Wilson 466, 1057-1062 (2010); Nowak et al. reply. For over fifty years, the evolution of social behaviour has been guided by the concept of inclusive fitness as a measure of evolutionary success. Nowak et al. argue that inclusive fitness should be abandoned. In so doing, however, they misrepresent the role that inclusive fitness has played in the theory of social evolution by which understanding social behaviour in a variety of disciplines has developed and flourished. By discarding inclusive fitness on the basis of its limitations, they create a conceptual tension which, we argue, is unnecessary, and potentially dangerous for evolutionary biology.
Arising from M. A. Nowak, C. E. Tarnita & E. O. Wilson 466, 1057-1062 (2010); Nowak et al. reply. Nowak et al. argue that inclusive fitness theory has been of little value in explaining the natural world, and that it has led to negligible progress in explaining the evolution of eusociality. However, we believe that their arguments are based upon a misunderstanding of evolutionary theory and a misrepresentation of the empirical literature. We will focus our comments on three general issues.
Flagella-generated fluid stirring has been suggested to enhance nutrient uptake for sufficiently large micro-organisms, and to have played a role in evolutionary transitions to multicellularity. A corollary to this predicted size-dependent benefit is a propensity for phenotypic plasticity in the flow-generating mechanism to appear in large species under nutrient deprivation. We examined four species of volvocalean algae whose radii and flow speeds differ greatly, with Péclet numbers (Pe) separated by several orders of magnitude. Populations of unicellular Chlamydomonas reinhardtii and one- to eight-celled Gonium pectorale (Pe ? 0.1-1) and multicellular Volvox carteri and Volvox barberi (Pe ? 100) were grown in diluted and undiluted media. For C. reinhardtii and G. pectorale, decreasing the nutrient concentration resulted in smaller cells, but had no effect on flagellar length and propulsion force. In contrast, these conditions induced Volvox colonies to grow larger and increase their flagellar length, separating the somatic cells further. Detailed studies on V. carteri found that the opposing effects of increasing beating force and flagellar spacing balance, so the fluid speed across the colony surface remains unchanged between nutrient conditions. These results lend further support to the hypothesized link between the Péclet number, nutrient uptake and the evolution of biological complexity in the Volvocales.
In diploid populations, indirect benefits of sex may stem from segregation and recombination. Although it has been recognized that finite population size is an important component of selection for recombination, its effects on selection for segregation have been somewhat less studied. In this article, we develop analytical two- and three-locus models to study the effect of recurrent deleterious mutations on a modifier gene increasing sex, in a finite diploid population. The model also incorporates effects of mitotic recombination, causing loss of heterozygosity (LOH). Predictions are tested using multilocus simulations representing deleterious mutations occurring at a large number of loci. The model and simulations show that excess of heterozygosity generated by finite population size is an important component of selection for sex, favoring segregation when deleterious alleles are nearly additive to dominant. Furthermore, sex tends to break correlations in homozygosity among selected loci, which disfavors sex when deleterious alleles are either recessive or dominant. As a result, we find that it is difficult to maintain costly sex when deleterious alleles are recessive. LOH tends to favor sex when deleterious mutations are recessive, but the effect is relatively weak for rates of LOH corresponding to current estimates (of the order 10(-4)-10(-5)).
Molecular biology has entrenched the gene as the basic hereditary unit and genomes are often considered little more than collections of genes. However, new concepts and genomic data have emerged, which suggest that the genome has a unique place in the hierarchy of life. Despite this, a framework for the genome as a major evolutionary transition has not been fully developed. Instead, genome origin and evolution are frequently considered as a series of neutral or nonadaptive events. In this article, we argue for a Darwinian multilevel selection interpretation for the origin of the genome. We base our arguments on the multilevel selection theory of hypercycles of cooperative interacting genes and predictions that gene-level trade-offs in viability and reproduction can help drive evolutionary transitions. We consider genomic data involving mobile genetic elements as a test case of our view. A new concept of the genome as a discrete evolutionary unit emerges and the gene-genome juncture is positioned as a major evolutionary transition in individuality. This framework offers a fresh perspective on the origin of macromolecular life and sets the scene for a new, emerging line of inquiry--the evolutionary ecology of the genome.
Evolutionary transitions in individuality (ETIs) underlie the watershed events in the history of life on Earth, including the origins of cells, eukaryotes, plants, animals, and fungi. Each of these events constitutes an increase in the level of complexity, as groups of individuals become individuals in their own right. Among the best-studied ETIs is the origin of multicellularity in the green alga Volvox, a model system for the evolution of multicellularity and cellular differentiation. Since its divergence from unicellular ancestors, Volvox has evolved into a highly integrated multicellular organism with cellular specialization, a complex developmental program, and a high degree of coordination among cells. Remarkably, all of these changes were previously thought to have occurred in the last 50-75 million years. Here we estimate divergence times using a multigene data set with multiple fossil calibrations and use these estimates to infer the times of developmental changes relevant to the evolution of multicellularity. Our results show that Volvox diverged from unicellular ancestors at least 200 million years ago. Two key innovations resulting from an early cycle of cooperation, conflict and conflict mediation led to a rapid integration and radiation of multicellular forms in this group. This is the only ETI for which a detailed timeline has been established, but multilevel selection theory predicts that similar changes must have occurred during other ETIs.
Related JoVE Video
Journal of Visualized Experiments
What is Visualize?
JoVE Visualize is a tool created to match the last 5 years of PubMed publications to methods in JoVE's video library.
How does it work?
We use abstracts found on PubMed and match them to JoVE videos to create a list of 10 to 30 related methods videos.
Video X seems to be unrelated to Abstract Y...
In developing our video relationships, we compare around 5 million PubMed articles to our library of over 4,500 methods videos. In some cases the language used in the PubMed abstracts makes matching that content to a JoVE video difficult. In other cases, there happens not to be any content in our video library that is relevant to the topic of a given abstract. In these cases, our algorithms are trying their best to display videos with relevant content, which can sometimes result in matched videos with only a slight relation.