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January 2010 - March 2011

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University of Minnesota Twin Cities
College of Biological Sciences
College of Science and Engineering
BioTechnology Institute

PI: Michael Travisano

Experimental Investigation of the Evolution of Multicellularity

The origin of multicellular life is a central question in biology. Multicellularity has profound consequences on biological diversity, and on the form and function of biological systems. Prior research has identified multiple benefits to existing multicellular life, such as greatly increased body size and differentiated cell types. But how single-celled life gave rise to multicellular complex organisms remains an open question, because the mechanisms leading to the evolution of biological organization remain uncertain. This research focuses on observing and experimentally studying the evolution of multicellularity as it occurs, using a newly developed research model to study the transition to multicellularity using Saccharomyces cerevisiae. The research has three objectives. First, the selective conditions promoting the origin of multicellular life will be investigated, focusing on the costs and benefits of multicellularity. Second, the effects of increased mutation rate on the transition to multicellularity will be determined, because mutations can generate conflicts in multicellular systems. Third, the subsequent evolutionary consequences of a recent transition to multicellularity will be investigated, hypothesizing that such "major evolutionary transitions” have evolutionary impacts far greater than the initial selective benefits by which they arose.

Group Members

Mark Borrello, Co-Principal Investigator
R. Ford Denison, Co-Principal Investigator
Molly Burke, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of California, Irvine, California
Will Ratcliff, Research Associate