Test Tube Yeast Evolve Multicellularity

Sarah Fecht in Scientific American:

Test-tube-yeast-evolve_1The transition from single-celled to multicellular organisms was one of the most significant developments in the history of life on Earth. Without it, all living things would still be microscopic and simple; there would be no such thing as a plant or a brain or a human. How exactly multicellularity arose is still a mystery, but a new study, published January 16 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that it may have been quicker and easier than many scientists expected.

“This is a significant paper that addresses one of the most fundamental questions in evolutionary and developmental biology,” says Rick Grosberg, an evolutionary biologist at the University of California at Davis, who was not involved with the research.

Since evolution acts on individual cells, it pays off for a cell to be selfish. By hogging resources and hindering neighbors, a cell can increase the odds that more of its own genes get passed into the next generation. This logic is one of the reasons it has been challenging to imagine how multicellularity arose; it requires the subjugation of self-interest in favor of the group’s survival.

More here.