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Research Abstracts Online
January - December 2011

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University of Minnesota Twin Cities
College of Biological Sciences
Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior

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. How single-celled life gave rise to multicellular complex organisms remains an open question, however, 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 the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae. The project has three objectives. The first is to investigate the selective conditions promoting the origin of multicellular life, focusing on the costs and benefits of multicellularity. The second is to determine the effects of increased mutation rate on the transition to multicellularity, because mutations can generate conflicts in multicellular systems. The third is to investigate the subsequent evolutionary consequences of a recent transition to
multicellularity, hypothesizing that such “major evolutionary transitions” have evolutionary impacts far greater than the initial selective benefits by which they arose.

Group Members

Mark E. Borello, Faculty Collaborator
Molly Burke, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of California-Irvine, Irvine, California
R. Ford Denison, Faculty Collaborator
William C. Ratcliff, Research Associate