Evolving Bodies: My new story in tomorrow's New York Times

By Carl Zimmer | January 16, 2012 8:25 pm

In the history of life, single-celled microbes have evolved into multicellular bodies at least 25 times. In our own lineage, our ancestors crossed over some 700 million years ago. In tomorrow’s New York Times, I write about a new study in which single-celled yeast evolved into multicellular forms–completely with juvenile and adult forms, different cell types, and the ability to split off propagules like plant cuttings. All this in a matter of weeks. Check it out.

(The paper is not yet online yet, but here’s the reference: “Experimental evolution of multicellularity,” William C. Ratcliff, R. Ford Denison, Mark Borrello, and Michael Travisano. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. http://www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1115323109 )

Update: Here’s a Twitter-Storify-blog follow up on some reactions to the study.

Comments (5)

  1. Very interesting. Our understanding of the evolution of multicellularity also has implications for the way we understand the evolution of sex: see http://ittakes30.wordpress.com/2011/04/12/rewriting-the-history-of-sex/.

  2. BJM

    Brewing and ethanol industry scientists have been developing highly flocculating yeast stains for many years. These are brewers rather than bakers yeasts but I wonder how the most highly flocculating strains they have developed compare to those in this study.

    [CZ: This multicellularity is different from flocculation.]

  3. Marlene Zuk

    Fabulous stuff, and I am not just saying this because I’m going to be joining the authors’ department at the U of Minnesota in the spring! And Will says he had a blast talking to you, Carl.

  4. John Kubie

    I guess if you want to get big, growing big cells doesn’t work very well. Curious to why large single cells with complex cytoskeletons and specialized sub-regions never occur. Or have they?

  5. John Kubie,

    One issue with large cells is that voltage differences across cell membranes are key to cell energy metabolism. Large cells have less membrane area relative to their volume. See Lane and Martin (2010) paper in Nature, my discussion in blog post below, and comments on that post from Mark Reichert, who mentions giant Epulopiscium cells.

    http://blog.lib.umn.edu/denis036/thisweekinevolution/2011/01/how_inevitable_was_the_origin.html

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The Loom

A blog about life, past and future. Written by DISCOVER contributing editor and columnist Carl Zimmer.

About Carl Zimmer

Carl Zimmer writes about science regularly for The New York Times and magazines such as DISCOVER, which also hosts his blog, The LoomHe is the author of 12 books, the most recent of which is Science Ink: Tattoos of the Science Obsessed.

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