When I was younger and struggling with the concepts of evolution as generally understood, one of the things that made it very hard for me to accept as a package was the issue of how a single celled creature could become a multi-celled creature by natural selection. That was answered to my satisfaction some years ago when I read about the Volvox, a colony animal that is an obvious intermediary between single celled and multi-celled animals well described in the superb book, ‘The Selfish Gene’ by Richard Dawkins.
This however, is even more compelling evidence. Thanks to Fjordman for the link.
IN JUST a few weeks single-celled yeast have evolved into a multicellular organism, complete with division of labour between cells. This suggests that the evolutionary leap to multicellularity may be a surprisingly small hurdle.
Multicellularity has evolved at least 20 times since life began, but the last time was about 200 million years ago, leaving few clues to the precise sequence of events. To understand the process better, William Ratcliff and colleagues at the University of Minnesota in St Paul set out to evolve multicellularity in a common unicellular lab organism, brewer’s yeast.
Their approach was simple: they grew the yeast in a liquid and once each day gently centrifuged each culture, inoculating the next batch with the yeast that settled out on the bottom of each tube. Just as large sand particles settle faster than tiny silt, groups of cells settle faster than single ones, so the team effectively selected for yeast that clumped together.
Sure enough, within 60 days – about 350 generations – every one of their 10 culture lines had evolved a clumped, “snowflake” form. Crucially, the snowflakes formed not from unrelated cells banding together but from cells that remained connected to one another after division, so that all the cells in a snowflake were genetically identical relatives. This relatedness provides the conditions necessary for individual cells to cooperate for the good of the whole snowflake.
“The key step in the evolution of multicellularity is a shift in the level of selection from unicells to groups. Once that occurs, you can consider the clumps to be primitive multicellular organisms,” says Ratcliff.
Please click over to New Scientist for the rest of this fascinating and important article.
As a post script, to any Catholic readers, they may be interested in this article, which is not the best one I have read on the unequivocal support the Vatican has for Darwin but it still makes the point.