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Journal Article

A conceptual framework for the evolutionary origins of multicellularity


Rainey,  Paul B.
External Scientific Member Group Experimental and Evolutionary Genetics, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology, Max Planck Society;

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Libby, E., & Rainey, P. B. (2013). A conceptual framework for the evolutionary origins of multicellularity. Physical Biology, 10(3): 035001. doi:10.1088/1478-3975/10/3/035001.

Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-0013-AB54-D
The evolution of multicellular organisms from unicellular counterparts involved a transition in Darwinian individuality from single cells to groups. A particular challenge is to understand the nature of the earliest groups, the causes of their evolution, and the opportunities for emergence of Darwinian properties. Here we outline a conceptual framework based on a logical set of possible pathways for evolution of the simplest self-replicating groups. Central to these pathways is the recognition of a finite number of routes by which genetic information can be transmitted between individual cells and groups. We describe the form and organization of each primordial group state and consider factors affecting persistence and evolution of the nascent multicellular forms. Implications arising from our conceptual framework become apparent when attempting to partition fitness effects at individual and group levels. These are discussed with reference to the evolutionary emergence of individuality and its manifestation in extant multicellular life—including those of marginal Darwinian status.